Digvijay Singh just proved on Twitter why EVMs can’t be hacked

Chief Conspiracy Officer (unofficial) of the Congress party and former Chief Minister (official) of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh today sent out a series of tweets where he pitched in with his views on the possibility of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) being hacked or tampered with.

The tweets came at a time when leaders in Congress party are attacking each other over the EVM hack theory, with many senior leaders not happy with the party espousing this theory. Being a senior leader, it seems Digvijay Singh tried to take a middle path through the tweets:

As one can see, Digvijay Singh tried not to make baseless allegations but use some logic and facts, which must be welcomed. With facts and logic increasingly not finding a place in the mainstream media and in political arguments, this step by Mr. Singh is indeed commendable.

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Now coming to the three tweets, first of all Digvijay Singh virtually concedes that tampering of EVMs post manufacturing is not possible, as all the stages – from deployment of EVMs to counting the votes – are supervised by the representatives of political parties. Even the team of engineers that had claimed back in 2009 about the possibility of EVM tampering had conceded that only physical tampering with EVMs could manipulate the results.

This is exactly what Election Commission (EC) had clarified in detail to both Mayawati and Arvind Kejriwal’s parties i.e. how any attempt of hacking, which is possible only through physical tampering, can be spotted by political parties at various stages of the electoral process.

Now that leaves the stage prior to deployment i.e. manufacturing and writing the software code in the chip. Digvijay Singh makes the same point by saying that EVMs can be “pre-tampered” i.e. a malicious software code is written at the time of manufacturing, and he asks EC to have a political representative even at the time of coding the software.

Let’s examine this possibility and whether it is possible.

First of all, as EC had also clarified, the software code in EVMs are not re-programmable. “The software in the ECI-EVM chip is one time programmable (OTP) and burnt into the chip at the time of manufacture. Nothing can be written on the chip after manufacture. Thus, the ECI-EVMs are fundamentally different from the voting machines and processes adopted in various foreign countries.” ECI had said (pdf).

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that this software has a malicious code burnt into the chip at the time of manufacture.

Firstly, an overwhelming proportion of EVMs are being re-used in various elections, as the average life of an EVM is considered to be 15 years. Since they are only one time programmable, every single election in which they were used for the last 10-15 years must be considered “rigged” if the software had a malicious code. Will Digvijay Singh and others like Kejriwal accept it? Further, this also means that Congress wrote that malicious code as Modi government came to power only in 2014.

Secondly, how exactly will this malicious code work? As EC had clarified, randomly selected EVMs are made to go through a mock-poll with 1000 votes in presence of representatives of political parties. If this malicious code has to escape being caught during this mock-poll, it must get activated only after 1000 votes are polled. Now a polling booth on average has less than 1500 voters. For this malicious code to get activated, you must have a voter turnout of more than 70%. How helpful is that really in rigging elections?

But the biggest question is, how will this malicious code know which button (political party) to transfer the votes to? EVMs are sent to different constituencies and polling booths through a randomized process, and this randomization is also done in the presence of representatives of political parties. So a button number 3 could be assigned to Congress in one machine while it could be assigned to BJP elsewhere and BSP somewhere else. This is just too risky for any political party to inject such a code, as it can benefit anyone.

These issues simply mean that EVMs can’t be tampered with at the time of manufacture, while the subsequent stages are supervised by political parties to prevent any physical tampering. So it’s impossible to hack the EVMs.

And we must thank Digvijay Singh for pointing this out.

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