On EVM Testing

Statement issued by team of experts who attended the Election Commission’s EVM Testing meet on behalf of the CPI(M), on June 4.

A CPI(M) technical team comprising of Hardware, Embedded Systems and Security Experts had visited the ECI Office on June 3 for participating in the EVM testing exercise. The team wanted to check not only the EVMs but how the EVMs can be used with a set of safeguards, including voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT). The issue is not whether EVMs are hackable, the issue is the need to examine the system in its entirety, including the EVMs, the physical and human checks. This is why the CPI(M) team was participating in this exercise.

In order to make a deeper analysis of the EVMs, the team wanted to attach hardware probes (Logic Analysers and Bus Protocol Analysers) to the EVM motherboard to develop a better understanding and the potential for hacking of the EVMs. In any case, no EVM can be hacked without analysing the EVM by simply pressing buttons or using external wireless devices. The EC denied this request, saying that it was not included in this phase. Under such restrictive conditions, the team was unable to make an independent assessment of the EVMs, and hence suggest technical improvements or other safeguards.

If the exercise conducted by the EC was for the purpose of increasing the confidence of the political parties, this exercise was too restrictive. While we can accept that the EC's contention that the hardware of the EVM should not be changed, as this would make it a different machine, we are unable to appreciate why a physical examination of the EVM as outlined in EC's Challenge II should not have included attaching instruments and generating a better understanding of the EVM and its communication within its various sub units.

The team also met with the technical expert committee members of the Election Commission. The team expressed its concerns about various design and security aspects of the EVM, and had detailed technical discussions. EC's technical committee explained that a number of concerns, particularly regarding internal communications between the sub units, have been addressed by the EC's technical team, particularly in its Versions 2 and 3 of the EVM. While prima facie, these are indeed robust precautions, but without a detailed technical examination as asked for by the CPI(M)'s technical team, this remains to be independently verified.

Our discussions with the technical team of the EC also reinforced the importance of the VVPAT in the electronic voting process. The CPI(M) has maintained that VVPAT EVM should be used in all elections as per the Supreme Court mandate in 2013 and are disappointed that the government took this long to release funds for the procuring the VVPAT EVMs.

The CPI(M) believes that technical discussions between the EC, political parties and other stakeholders regarding current and future EVM design choices should be held on a regular basis. The challenge, counter challenge and hackathons as it is being done by certain parties and the EC, builds an adversarial atmosphere which is not conducive to building confidence in the electoral process.  

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