"Happy To Run Tutorial, Elon": Ex-IT Minister On "EVM Can Be Hacked" Talk

Former Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said he'd be happy to run a tutorial on secure EVMs for Elon Musk

Elon Musk and Rajeev Chandrasekhar have started a debate on X on EVMs

New Delhi:

Tesla chief Elon Musk and former Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar have started a debate on X (formerly Twitter) on whether the world should switch to paper voting and discard electronic voting machines (EVMs) over possible risks of being hacked and manipulated.

Later, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav also joined in, backing Mr Musk's apprehension of EVMs.

Mr Musk set the ball rolling with his post questioning EVMs' reliability, referring to media reports that Puerto Rico's elections saw voting irregularities in hundreds of EVMs.

"Luckily, there was a paper trail so the problem was identified and vote tallies corrected," independent US presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr said in a post on X.

Mr Chandrasekhar, who headed the electronics and information technology ministry in the previous government, in his reply to Mr Musk indicated the X owner's comment made it seem like "no one can build secure digital hardware."

The former Union Minister said he'd be happy to run a tutorial for Mr Musk on how to build a secure EVM.

"This is a huge sweeping generalisation statement that implies no one can build secure digital hardware. Wrong. Elon Musk's view may apply to the US and other places - where they use regular compute platforms to build internet-connected voting machines," Mr Chandrasekhar said in a reply to Mr Musk's post that EVMs weren't reliable.

India used EVMs in the recently held Lok Sabha elections. Many political leaders, mostly from the Opposition parties, had said the same thing as Mr Musk has said, i.e. EVMs need to be replaced with paper voting, for any doubt in voters' minds can wipe out trust from the entire democratic exercise.

Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav Join EVM Debate

Mr Gandhi, too, has been a fierce critic of EVMs. "EVMs in India are a 'black box,' and nobody is allowed to scrutinise them. Serious concerns are being raised about transparency in our electoral process. Democracy ends up becoming a sham and prone to fraud when institutions lack accountability," Mr Gandhi said in response to Mr Musk's post.

His Opposition INDIA bloc ally, Mr Yadav, said technology experts around the world are openly writing about the dangers of EVM tampering. "We reiterate our demand that all future elections be conducted using ballot papers," Mr Yadav said.

Referring to Indian EVMs, Mr Chandrasekhar said they are custom designed and isolated from any kind of network or media. "... no connectivity, no Bluetooth, Wi-FI, internet, i.e. there is no way in. (There are) factory programmed controllers that cannot be reprogrammed. Electronic voting machines can be... built right as India has done..."

To this, Mr Musk replied, "Anything can be hacked".

The former Union Minister agreed that "anything is possible", at least in theory. "... With quantum compute, I can decrypt any level of encryption. With lab-level tech and plenty of resources, I can hack any digital hardware/system including the flight controls of a glass cockpit of a jet, etc. But that's a different type of conversation from EVMs being secure and reliable..."

The Supreme Court has also ruled it can't dictate the functioning of the Election Commission (EC), a constitutional authority, on the matter of EVMs. The EC has long maintained India's EVMs are foolproof.

An EVM has a control unit and a balloting unit. These are connected by a cable. These are also connected with a VVPAT -- Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail -- machine. This machine enables a voter to see if the vote was cast properly and went to the candidate he/she supports.

European nations have reverted to the ballot voting system.