Opinion: Stop Generalising, Elon Musk, Indian EVMs Are Safe And Tamper Proof

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No one in India is talking about eliminating the Indian Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) as these are undoubtedly tamper-proof; none can hack them or influence them using human or artificial intelligence. The current election gave a resounding thumbs-up to the faith 1.4 billion Indian citizens have in India's EVMs.

Today, Mr Elon Musk has stated that "we should eliminate electronic voting machines". Maybe he is talking only about the American democratic process and US Electronic Voting Machines, which may be unsafe and could be hacked.

His statement cannot apply to Indian EVMs. As per the last count, nearly 400 crore votes have been cast on EVMs in India, and not a single case of hacking has ever been proven. In fact, this massive sample size of 400 crores is the single largest scientific experiment ever undertaken in the world, with no proof of cheating.

The Election Commission of India says no incident of EVM tampering has ever been found, and Chief Election Commissioner Rajeev Kumar said the EVMs just can't be hacked. Even the Supreme Court has echoed the same.

An expert on EVMs, computer scientist Prof Rajat Moona, Director of IIT Gandhinagar, told NDTV, "India loves the tamper-proof domestically manufactured EVMs. The 2024 Festival of Democracy, where 642 million Indians voted digitally, shows that the unique EVMs are at the heart of free and fair voting in the world's largest democracy, and no, they will not be eliminated from India anytime soon. 1.4 billion Indians trust the secure ecosystem that makes the swadeshi EVMs a clear winner."

The world's largest democracy started using EVMs in 1982, well before Mr Musk had even become a teenager; he was born in 1971. In this election, 5.5 million EVMs were deployed from the high Himalayas to the Great Nicobar Island, and the stunning results only made the Indian voter realise how reliable and robust the Indian election apparatus is, with the EVMs at the heart of the operation.

Problems due to "hanging chads" and networked EVMs made by the private sector being hacked are all stories that echo and emerge from US elections. None of this happened in the 2024 festival of democracy that India celebrated, choreographed by the very able and independent Election Commission of India.

Here are some of the reasons why Indian EVMs defy the logic Mr Musk propounds.

While pontificating and generalising about EVMs, Mr Musk says the "risk of being hacked by humans or AI, while small, is still too high". Mr Musk, next time, please do not cancel your visit at the last moment; Indian election officials can easily show you how artificial intelligence and even human hacking of Indian EVMs is an impossibility.

Today, India uses the third generation of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) or the M3 EVM machines. They are tamper-proof, and if tampered with, they go into a 'Safety Mode' and become inoperable. Each is a standalone device almost akin to a basic calculator. Even the latest third-generation EVMs-the M3 machines that the ECI is using-are not connected to the internet and cannot connect to Bluetooth or WiFi, making them impenetrable through remote devices, a big bugbear for hackers as today most hacking is done via the internet in connected devices.

"Indian EVMs are different from other EVMs in the world. The M3 EVMs have no connection to any other device, not even mains power supply," asserts Prof. Dinesh K. Sharma, a specialist in microelectronics and solid-state electronics at the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Bombay. "An EVM is a dedicated system designed for voting and not a general-purpose computing device with a loaded program for electronic voting," Professor Sharma said. "Each EVM is a unique electronic island in itself, and this makes them super secure."

Prof Moona, a well-known expert in computer science and cybersecurity, smart cards, and cyber-physical security, told NDTV that "No tampering has ever been recorded in Indian EVMs. They are an exceptional and user-friendly technology made by Indians for Indian people to suit the unique needs of Indian democracy."

Prof Moona adds, "India invented the zero and in 1982, India became the world's first country to use that 'zero' in electronic voting machines since electronics is all about zeroes and ones. In 2024, 642 million votes were cast on tamper-proof third-generation EVMs. So there should be no doubt that India, which is the mother of democracy and today an advanced digitally empowered democracy, was a pioneer in using electronic voting machines and remains the fountainhead of innovation for secure electoral voting."

Even today, just about 25 countries in the world use digital voting. According to the Election Commission of India, the countries using EVMs are the USA, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Namibia, Nepal, Bhutan, Armenia, and Bangladesh, to name a few.

Globally, there are several types of digital voting. There is fully electronic voting like India has, and then there are some countries only the counting is electronic. There are some countries like Estonia that have started using internet-based remote voting, and some have internet-based voting at designated polling stations. Some use optical scanners, both networked and non-networked machines.

In most countries, electronic voting devices are made by private companies, which are considered less cyber secure compared to the government-owned facilities of India that manufacture the EVMs. The world's most advanced country, the USA, uses several different forms of electronic voting and has no country-wide standard.

Many foreign experts have often complained that India's EVMs are antiquated and need to be modernised. Experts at the ECI say sometimes being obsolete gives electronic technology that level of extra security since if one has to hack EVMs, then 5.5 million individual EVMs will have to be hacked, which is a near impossibility, and subsequently, the randomisation provides that additional security.

In addition, India's elections today are the most secure and advanced since the same departments that helped make India's atom bombs make the Electronic Voting Machines.

"The beauty of India's EVMs is that they are under-designed for a 21st-century electronic gadget, and hence this makes them tamper-proof and hacking-resistant," explains Prof Moona, who assisted the ECI in designing the EVMs.

No one in India is asking for the elimination of EVMs; the mute machines gave a clean and eco-friendly election of the kind the world has never seen before.

Prof Moona says, "The USA can learn the art and science of conducting free, fair, and insurrection-free elections from India!"

(Pallava Bagla is the Science Editor of NDTV)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author