22 Opposition parties met EC yesterday to demand verification of sample VVPAT slips before counting the EVMs. It is to be noted that the Honourable Supreme Court has mandated that five randomly selected polling station’s in an assembly constituency – VVPATs be counted and verified against their corresponding EVMs. This cumbersome process will take long hours as it takes about an hour to manually count one VVPAT, per the ECI. Multiply that by 5 into the number of assembly segments in a parliamentary constituency. India has about 4120 assembly constituency segments and to verify five VVPATs in each of them, ECI will need a minimum of 20600 person hours.
This demand of 22 Opposition parties was outright rejected by the Election commission of India today leading to a huge furore among the concerned political parties as well as considerable buzz in the social media.
At the outset, one needs to understand what would be different cases and dispel the notion from the mind that EVMs and VVPATs are vulnerable to be hacked and manipulated. Following are some of the concerns for which answers can be found with ECI easily.
Q1: What will happen if the EVM and VVPAT count doesn’t match during the random sample verification?
Ans: Though rare, this can mostly happen when the presiding officer has inadvertently missed to reset the EVM after the mock poll count. In such cases, The VVPAT count will be considered sacrosanct and that will be updated in the result-sheet.
Q2: Can the EVM be gerrymandered before the election?
Ans: Not really. EVMs are allocated to polling station by two stages of randomisation process. First randomisation of EVMs is done at the District Election Officer level to allocate them Assembly Constituency-wise in the presence of the representative of political parties and before commissioning the EVMs, second randomisation of EVMs is done at the Returning Officer level to allocate them Polling Station-wise in the presence of candidates/their agents.
Also, the sequencing of the candidate may differ from parliamentary constituency to another as it is based in alphabetical order, first for the National & State Recognised Political Parties, followed by other State Registered Parties, and then by Independents.
Q3: Can the micro controller chip be hacked to show a pre-programmed result?
The ECI has very stringent standard operating procedure which is followed. In M1 and M2 EVMs manufactured till 2010, Machine code compiled from source programme code was given to the micro controller manufacturer for writing in ONE TIME PROGRAMMABLE (OTP) micro controllers. From this machine code, the exact original source code cannot be read. For such OTP micro-controllers, the code once programmed cannot be modified and cannot be read by any means. The technological advancements permit the writing of the machine code into the chips at PSU premises, hence in M3 (post 2013) EVMs, the program is burnt into the chip at PSU premises itself.
Upon receipt of machine code, the micro controller manufacturer verifies against any modifications during transit and programs this code in the micro-controller in the OTP area and initially provides engineering samples of programmed chip to PSUs for evaluation. These samples are then assembled into the EVM, evaluated and verified for authenticity of code and functionality at great length. Bulk production clearance by PSU is given to micro controller manufacturer only after successful completion of this verification.