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YouTuber Pragya Mishra accuses the BJP of tampering EVMs, here is how fake and baseless claims are being repeated after Congress lost polls in 3 states

Pragya Mishrs claimed that just like phones can be hacked, EVMs can be hacked too. But the fact is, unlike phones, EVMs don't have a single connectivity option, they can't be accessed remotely. Physical access is needed for any tampering, but the process and logistics of the election does not allow physical access after EVMs are allocated for specific constituencies.

Congress’s defeat in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan shocked Congress supporters and pro-Congress media personalities. There was a wave of chest beating and Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) blaming as the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced the results. One such pro-Congress and anti-BJP rant came from YouTuber Pragya Mishra, who poses as a journalist. Mishra runs a YouTube channel with the name ‘Pragya Ke Panne’ where she enjoys 2.5 million followers. On 6th December, Mishra published a video with the title ‘Reality of EVM Machines – Analysis by Pragya Mishra’.

In her video, she addressed concerns about the credibility of EVM machines following the Congress party’s loss in the three states. She claimed there were discrepancies between Congress’ success in paper ballot voting and defeat in EVM voting. She added that Congress consistently dominated the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in paper ballots and raised questions about the integrity of the EVMs.

It is known that elections in all five states took place on EVM machines. Then, which ballot papers was Mishra talking about? She was referring to the postal votes provided to special sections of the voters. According to ECI, special voters, service voters, voters on election duty, and electors subjected to preventive detention can use postal ballots. There are rules for registering for postal ballots, and specific documents must be attached to the postal votes to mark them as valid.

Mishra claimed that as postal votes were in favour of Congress, all voting should have been done on ballot papers as it would have given a transparent result. However, Mishra forgot two important aspects here. First, the postal ballots are limited to very few individuals. In most cases, they do not even cross the 2,000 mark in total.

Furthermore, those who have lived through the time of ballot papers know how rampant booth capturing used to be. In July 2023, there were reports of booth capturing in West Bengal during Panchayat Polls conducted using paper ballots. Even these days, when ballot paper voting happens, the reports of booth capturing surface. Someone should ask Mishra how she can even think that paper ballots are a better option.

‘If Pegasus can enter phones, how difficult will it be to hack EVMs.’

Those who are not technically sound may fall for this trap. This argument has surfaced so many times that machines can be hacked, so EVMs, being machines, can be hacked. Mishra pointed out that Congress raised voices over the tempering of EVMs. Then how did Congress win Telangana? According to her, the BJP let other parties win a few states to show EVMs “do not discriminate”.

Questions were raised over EVM’s authenticity several times. ECI even announced a hackathon and challenged geniuses like Mishra to come or send someone to hack EVMs. Not a single person came forward.

For those who are unaware, for software like Pegasus to hack a phone, the phone needs to be connected to the internet. EVM machines are not connected to any network. They do not have any chip that can enable such a connection. Today’s phones have multiple connectivity facilities, including cellular, wi-fi, Bluetooth, GPS, infrared and even ultrasound, and therefore phones can be hacked. EVMs, on the other hand, do not have a single connectivity option.

There is not even a port where a wire can be plugged in to read the results. When EVM votes are counted, a button is pressed to display the votes on the EVM control unit, the votes are recorded manually and are totalled. Although there is a proposal to add a read-only port to count the votes faster by connecting them to a computer, it has not been implemented yet.

EVMs cannot be hacked, period.

The EVMs have always been a topic of discussion around elections. There have been frequent concerns raised about the possibility of hacking. However, experts have maintained that EVMs are secure and impossible to hack.

During manufacturing, the machines are programmed with One-Time Programmable (OTP) chips. These chips cannot be reprogrammed and are tamper-proof, ensuring the voting data’s integrity.

Furthermore, these machines operate on application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). These circuits are different from general computers that we use in our daily lives. ASICs are not susceptible to external manipulations as they lack features like RAM and operate on pre-programmed code. Thus, the possibility of hacking them is non-existent.

While some people have demonstrated hacking EVM, they require physical access the the machine for a significant amount of time, when critical components can be changed. However, this is only an academic exercise, and impossible to do in a real-world scenario due to the safety measures employed by the election commission. To manipulate an EVM, one must know which candidate will be assigned to which button on the ballot unit. But, buttons are assigned to candidates just days before the polls. Moreover, in many constituencies, multiple ballot units are used when the number of candidates exceeds 16, the number of buttons on the machine.

Before polls start, mock polls are conducted in each booth in the presence of agents of the candidates, and EVMs are used only after they don’t show any discrepancies. Now, if an EVM has been already hacked by changing hardware, it will show up in the mock poll, and such a machine will not be used for the actual poll.

Another fact that EVM-detractors always ignore, or are unaware of, is that once ballot papers are pasted on EVM ballot units, which means the allocation of buttons to candidates, the EVMs enter a high-security zone. Not just security agencies, agents of the parties and candidates keep a close eye on the machine from that point in time. EVMs are sealed in the presence of the agents after the conclusion of the voting, they follow the vehicles carrying the EVMs to the strong room, and the agents keep a continuous vigil on the strong room till the counting. Therefore, unless all the candidates in a constituency along with officials and security personnel are part of the constituency, the votes in EVMs can’t be altered after the voting.

The implementation of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) has significantly strengthened the security of the electoral process. These machines serve as a transparent verification mechanism that enables voters to verify their choices physically. As VVPATs cannot be reprogrammed, they are not vulnerable to hacking during the data upload process.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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