Message from Nagaland

Rohit Kumar Singh

The voter-verified paper audit trail should silence EVM sceptics.

Amid the clamour of events in the last month, one bit of news seems to have quietly escaped our notice. Yet it could be a landmark for the electoral process in India. On September 4, 2013, Nagaland became the first state in India to use the voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) system with electronic voting machines (EVMs) for the by-elections to the Noksen assembly constituency in Tuensang district. For the uninitiated, the VVPAT is a device attached to EVMs which leaves a verifiable paper trail of the votes cast. It permits the voter to check whether his vote has been recorded with the candidate he had wished to vote for.

Sceptics have tried belittling EVMs for quite some time now. As an observer of the Election Commission, I have often seen this issue being hotly debated during field interactions. Voters and political parties are apprehensive, mainly on three counts. First, can the machines be manipulated through a remote control? Second, what if a software module is embedded in the hardware, hidden in sleeper mode and activated to corrupt the machine at a later time? Third, is the vote actually recorded in favour of the candidate for whom it is cast?

All these apprehensions seem reasonable and need to be addressed. The security of EVMs may be compromised either by an outsider attack or manipulation by officials in charge of the process. For an outsider attack, the crucial prerequisite is access. Unlike other computerised voting devices, our EVMs are designed to work as standalone systems. While other such machines use generalised hardware and operating systems stored in flash memories, rendering them susceptible to manipulation, the software in our EVMs is fused permanently into integrated circuits that cannot be retrieved, altered or accessed, even by the manufacturer. During voting and the subsequent counting process, the EVMs are never connected to any network or device.

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