Can EVMs (Vote Machines) Be Hacked? Aam Aadmi Party Explores Answers In Botswana

The Election Commission had earlier told NDTV that Botswana did not hold a hackathon that was announced due to some confusion.

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Can EVMs (Vote Machines) Be Hacked? Aam Aadmi Party Explores Answers In Botswana
NEW DELHI: 

Highlights

  1. AAP will skip EVM Challenge to be held by Election Commission on June 3
  2. Parties cannot change internal circuit of vote machines at the Challenge
  3. AAP sent Saurabh Bharadwaj to Botswana which had announced EVM hackathon
The search for the perfect EVM hackathon has taken Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party engineer-lawmaker Saurabh Bharadwaj to Botswana, the south African country that had invited hackers to crack the electronic voting machines, or EVMs, earlier this month.

The AAP lawmaker from Delhi's Greater Kailash had last month held a demonstration in the Delhi Assembly to prove that the voting machine could be tampered with; he had changed the motherboard that controls the device. In all of 90 seconds, Chief Minister Kejriwal had declared.

But the Election Commission of India, which has announced an EVM Challenge on June 3 to address concerns among political parties about the voting machines, made it clear that it would not allow challengers to make any changes to the machine's hardware.

AAP, along with the Congress have decided to skip the event, insisting that the ground rules were far too restrictive. All that challengers can do under the commission's rules is to press the buttons of any four voting machines that were used in the assembly elections.

Only the Left party CPI-M and the Nationalist Congress Party applied by Friday's 5 pm deadline to participate in the challenge to be held between 10 am and 2 pm on June 3. Lalu Yadav's RJD made a last-minute dash to participate, but missed the commission's deadline by 39 minutes.

On Saturday, Mr Bharadwaj declared that he was going to come out with the "truth" about the hackathon in Botswana. It is an "African Country", the AAP leader added for those who hadn't heard of Botswana earlier.

"I will be live from Africa... (with) Truth about Bostwana (African Country) EVMs and Hackathon," he said in a tweet that was retweeted by all senior AAP leaders including Chief Minister Kejriwal.
And he was. With evidence, an invitation letter, sent out by Botswana's election commission to political parties and hackers to crack the EVM. Also with him was a local opposition leader introduced as head of the Botswana Congress Party. But Botswana never held the promised hackathon. Instead, engineers from public sector firm Bharat Electronics gave a demonstration of the EVMs attached with VVPAT, a gadget that provides instant proof that the vote is recorded correctly.

A country twice the size of Uttar Pradesh and with a population of about 2.3 million - about one-tenth of Delhi's population - Botswana is struggling to implement a decision to introduce Made in India electronic voting machines for its 2019 general elections.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party has never lost power since the African country gained independence in 1966. But its vote share dropped below 50 per cent in the last 2014 elections. Sensing that they could oust the ruling party in the next election if they come together, Botswana's four opposition parties have joined hands and are deeply suspicious about the voting machines pushed by the government.

It was in this context that the Botswana's election commission had agreed to a hackathon.

But Bharat Electronics was reported to have pulled out after AAP pointed how Made in India EVM were allowed to be hacked in Botswana but not in India. Earlier this week, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi told NDTV that only a demonstration was made by the public sector firm's engineers.

"Our manufacturers did clarify from Botswana Commission and it was never agreed between Botswana Commission and our manufacturers. There was no hacking. The engineering team did go there, and they showed the demonstration. There was no hackers, or hacking or hacktivist called in Botswana. It was wrong," Mr Zaidi said, adding that the announcement was made due to some confusion.

It wasn't that the opposition parties in Botswana were as excited about the proposed hackathon as AAP. The opposition leader in Botswana told Mr Bharadwaj that political parties didn't bother going for the hackathon because they had already challenged the hurried introduction of the machines in court.

Comments
To explain why India's election commission would not allow political parties to tamper with the hardware, the panel had made it clear that once an EVM's motherboard is changed, it wouldn't remain an EVM. "This is like saying that they should be permitted to manufacture a new machine and introduce their new EVMs in our system," the election commission had said.

Right from the time of its manufacture to its storage between elections, the panel said there were sufficient administrative safeguards to ensure that no unauthorised person could have access to the machines to tamper them. For nearly a decade, the commission has insisted that it wasn't just the stand-alone nature of the devices that made it impossible to tamper but also the physical security measures that were followed to secure them.

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