‘Their architecture prevents any attempt to break into them without being detected’

Electronic voting machines (EVMs) with people’s mandate locked inside will remain sealed in strongrooms for almost a month till the votes are counted on May 2.

With EVMs not always beyond reproach at least among a section of the electorate who have consistently raised doubts about their sanctity, is there scope for any kind of external manipulation exploiting the long gap between voting and counting? Experts The Hindu spoke to largely ruled out such a possibility.

“EVMs are a closed hardware system with little room for external interference remotely or through wireless technology. It can be manipulated only through physical access though even in that case, it cannot be broken into without being detected thanks to its architecture. Yes, a skilled electronic engineer may still manage to manipulate it, but it needs a lot of favourable factors to coincide making it an extreme possibility,” said Rahul Sasi, an international cyber security expert.

He ruled out the possibility of manipulating EVMs taking advantage of the prevailing extreme heat conditions also as highly improbable. That, Mr. Sasi said, required the generation of high electronic magnetic pulse using mammoth equipment, which would only enable the wiping out of data from EVMs and not their manipulation.

Sivahari Nandakumar, senior engineer with Keltron, said that the control unit is switched off and the battery of the VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) machine is removed at the end of polling, leaving both dead devices with no room for external manipulation. They are then sealed and locked inside a box and moved to strongrooms in the presence of polling officials and election agents of candidates.

“In fact, the control unit bearing data is protected by a triple seal, which could be stamped by election agents in whose presence they are unsealed on the counting day. Any kind of manipulation of EVMs requires physical access that needs extensive conspiracy involving polling officials, cops guarding strongrooms, and election agents, leaving it highly improbable,” said Mr. Nandakumar.

Former civil servant and activist Kannan Gopinathan said that while he was not competent to comment on EVM vulnerability during their long storage period till counting, he reiterated the argument that the Election Commission’s claim all along that EVMs were standalone devices remained disproved with the introduction of VVPAT machines.

“EVMs are connected to external devices to upload the names and symbols of candidates after randomisation, and the choice is made about the constituency and booth to which they are deployed. My apprehension about this serious lapse was officially raised with the Election Commission, and when it did not evoke any response, I was forced to go public with it,” he said.

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