How can Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) be manipulated ?
By Dr. Khomdon Singh Lisam
Voting is a fundamental right
The heart of democracy is voting . The heart of voting is TRUST that each vote is recorded and counted with accuracy and impartiality . The purpose of an election is not to name the winner, but it is to convince the losers that they lost. (Dr. Dan Wallach, Computer security expert, Rice University ). Voting is a statutory right under the Representation of People Act 1950 and fundamental rights in India under Article 19(1)(a) to know the antecedent of the candidates contesting for the election. A voter has the right to know whether his / her vote has been recorded and counted . Can a voter in India today know whether his /her vote has been recorded or counted . with accuracy and impartiality If so , where is the proof and where is the accountability ? Does EVMs answer these questions ?
What is EVM ?
India’s Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have two main components (1) CONTROL UNIT, used by poll workers, which stores and accumulates votes, and (2) a BALLOT UNIT, located in the election booth, which is used by voters. These units are connected by a 5 m cable, which has one end permanently fixed to the ballot unit. The system is powered by a battery pack inside the control unit. The ballot unit has 16 candidate buttons. If any are unused, they are covered with a plastic masking tab inside the unit. When there are more than 16 candidates, an additional ballot unit can be connected to a port on the underside of the first ballot unit. Up to four ballot units can be chained together in this way, for a maximum of 64 candidates. A four-position slide switch in the ballot unit selects its position in the chain. The Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India (ECIL) are the manufacturers of EVMs in India and the foreign companies in US and Japan supplying microcontrollers,
When EVMs were first used ?
The electronic voting machines (EVMs) used in Indian elections are internationally known as Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines which record votes directly in electronic memory . Electronic voting machines were first introduced in India in 1982 in assembly elections on a limited basis. One such constituency where they were used was the Parur Assembly constituency in the state of Kerala. In 50 of the 84 polling stations, electronic voting machines were used. EVMs have been in universal use in India since the general elections of 2004, when paper ballots were phased out completely. They have been deployed in all assembly polls and the general elections in 2009.
Advantages of EVM
Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have revolutionised the Indian election process. The advantages of electronic voting machines is simplicity of the procedure, the ease of tabulation of ballots into results and the faster and more accurate results . It's easy to see the utility of the machine— it eliminates invalid votes, ends booth capturing, and makes counting easier and faster. "It is tamper-proof, error-free and easy to operate," says the EC's manual for returning officers states.
Is it legal to use EVM in India ?
In 1984, the Supreme Court of India held that the use of electronic voting machines in elections was “illegal” as the Representation of People (RP) Act, 1951 did not permit use of voting machines in elections. Later, the R.P. Act was amended in 1989 incorporating Section 61A. However, the amendment says voting machines “may be adopted in such constituency or constituencies as the Election Commission may, having regard to the circumstances of each case, specify.” Violating the provisions of the R.P Act, the Election Commission has conducted 2004 and 2009 nationwide general elections only using electronic voting machines. Many legal experts say that going by the 1984 judgment of the Supreme Court, parliamentary elections of 2004 and 2009 may be held illegal. (GVL Narasimha Rao-http://www.indianevm.com/articles/ten-reasons-for-banning-indian-evms.pdf). .( http://www.indianevm.com/blogs/?cat=3). It will be interesting to know whether ECI specifically issue notification for use of EVM in the general election of Manipur-2012.
What happens when we caste our votes ?
The general process of electronic voting on the most common EVMs models goes something like this:
1. The voter checks in with the voter’s ID with poll workers . The polling personnel and the agents verify the name and identify the voter . They obtained signature or thumb print of the voter . To prevent double voting, they mark the voter’s right index finger with indelible ink
2. Next, a poll worker presses the BALLOT button on the control unit to allow one vote. This causes a green READY light to glow on the ballot unit.
3. The voter enters the polling booth and presses the button for the candidate of his or her choice. A red light next to the candidate button glows, the ready light turns off, and the control unit emits a loud beep to indicate that the vote has been cast. The red light then turns off automatically. This process repeats for each voter.
4. At the end of the poll, the presiding officer removes a plastic cap on the control unit and presses the CLOSE button, which prevents the EVM from accepting further votes. The ballot unit is disconnected and the control unit is placed in storage until the public count, which may occur weeks later.
5. On the counting day, the control units are delivered to a counting centre. In public view, an election official breaks a seal on the control unit and presses the RESULT button . The display on the control unit shows a sequence of outputs: the number of candidates, the total votes, and the number of votes received by each candidate.
6. The Counting officials manually record the totals from each machine and add
them together to determine the results of the election. The machines are then placed in storage until the next election.
Disadvantages of EVM :
Some disadvantages of electronic voting can include viruses and hacking, as well physical tampering. Despite elaborate safeguards, India’s EVMs are vulnerable to serious attacks.
1. EVM Software Isn’t Safe
The electronic voting machines are safe and secure only if the source code used in the EVMs is genuine. Shockingly, the EVM manufacturers, the BEL and ECIL have shared the ‘top secret’ EVM software program with two foreign companies, Microchip (USA) and Renesas (Japan) to copy it onto microcontrollers used in EVMs. This process could have been done securely in-house by the Indian manufacturers. Worse, when the foreign companies deliver microcontrollers fused with software code to the EVM manufacturers, the EVM manufacturers cannot “read back” their contents as they are either OTP-ROM or masked chips. Amusingly, the software given to foreign companies is not even made available with the Election Commission, ostensibly for security reasons. With such ridiculous decisions, the Election Commission and the public sector manufacturers have rendered security of the EVMs a mockery. (GVL Narasimha Rao-http://www.indianevm.com/articles/ten-reasons-for-banning-indian-evms.pdf)
2. EVM hardware Isn’t Safe
The danger for EVM manipulations is not just from its software. Even the hardware isn’t safe. Dr. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science in the University of Michigan says, “EVMs used in the West require software attacks as they are sophisticated voting machines and their hardware cannot be replaced cheaply. In contrast, the Indian EVMs can easily be replaced either in part or as wholesale units.” One crucial part that can be faked is microcontrollers used in the EVMs in which the software is copied. EVM manufacturers have greatly facilitated fraud by using generic microcontrollers rather than more secure ASIC or FPGA microcontrollers. Not just only microcontrollers, mother boards (cards which contain microcontrollers) and entire EVMs can be replaced. Neither the Election Commission nor the manufacturers have undertaken any hardware or software audit till date. As a result, such manipulation attempts would go undetected. To detect such fraud, the upgraded EVMs have a provision to interface with an Authentication Unit that would allow the manufacturers to verify whether the EVM being used in the election is the same that they have supplied to the Election Commission.
The EVM manufacturers developed an “Authentication Unit” engaging the services of SecureSpin, a Bangalore based software services firm. The Unit was developed and tested in 2006 but when the project was ready for implementation, the project was mysteriously shelved at the instance of the Election Commission. Several questions posed to the Election Commission for taking this decision went unanswered. (GVL Narasimha Rao-http://www.indianevm.com/articles/ten-reasons-for-banning-indian-evms.pdf)
3. Vulnerability to hacking:
The Indian EVMs can be hacked both before and after elections to alter election results. Apart from manipulating the EVM software and replacing many hardware parts discussed above, Indian EVMs can be hacked in many ways. To possibilities may be mentioned :-
Each EVM contains two EEPROMs inside the Control Unit in which the voting data is stored. They are completely unsecured and the data inside EEPROMs can be manipulated from an external source. It is very easy to read (data from) the EEPROMs and manipulate them (GVL Narasimha Rao-http://www.indianevm.com/articles/ten-reasons-for-banning-indian-evms.pdf)
The second and the most deadly way to hack Indian EVMs is by inserting a chip with Trojan inside the display section of the Control unit. This requires access to the EVM for just two minutes and these replacement units can be made for a few hundred rupees. Bypassing completely all inbuilt securities, this chip would manipulate the results and give out “fixed” results on the EVM screen. The Election Commission is completely oblivious to such possibilities. ( http://www.indianevm.com/articles/ten-reasons-for-banning-indian-evms.pdf)
Contrary to claims by Indian election authorities, these paperless EVMs suffer from significant vulnerabilities. Even brief access to the machines could allow dishonest election “Insiders “ or other criminals to alter election results.
There are allegations that some “insiders” demanding vast sums (Rs. 5 Crore or more for each assembly constituency) to fix election results. Who are these insiders? Unlike in the traditional ballot system where only the election officials were the “insiders”, electronic voting machine regime has spawned a long chain of insiders, all of whom are outside the ambit and control of the Election Commission of India. There is every possibility that some of these “insiders” are involved in murky activities in fixing elections. The whole world—except us in India--is alive to the dangers of insider fraud in elections. The “insiders” include the public sector manufacturers of India’s electronic voting machines namely, the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India (ECIL), the foreign companies supplying microcontrollers, private players (some of which are allegedly owned by some political leaders) for carrying out checking and maintenance of electronic voting machines during elections. (http://www.indianevm.com/articles/ten-reasons-for-banning-indian-evms.pdf)
A team of researchers showed precisely how a display component could be replaced with a fake substitute programmed to steal a percentage of the votes in favour of a chosen candidate. They also demonstrated how stored votes could be changed between the election and the public counting session, which in India, can be weeks later, with a pocket-sized device. The team, comprising Hyderabad-based NetIndia, Dr J Alex Halderman, professor & noted expert on electronic voting security from the University of Michigan and Holland-based security expert Rop Gonggrijp, was instrumental in the ban on EVMs in the Netherlands.
4. Which candidate to favour -Once the dishonest display is installed in an EVM (possibly months or years before the election), the attacker must communicate which candidate is to be favoured or disfavoured and by what margin. There are many different ways that attackers could send such a signal—various kinds of radios, secret combinations of key presses, or even by using the number of candidates on the ballot.
2. Stealing of Votes To steal votes, the attacker indicates his favoured candidate using the rotary switch, which selects a number from 0–9, and the attacker can use it to pick a favoured candidate in any of the first 9 ballot positions, which normally include the major national parties. When the switch is set to positions 1-9, the chip on the clip-on device executes a vote-stealing programme . The programme runs in two passes: first, it reads the list of votes and calculates how many votes to steal from each candidate, and second, it rewrites the list of votes, stealing votes as calculated in the first phase. Any time between the start of polling and the public count, dishonest election insiders or other criminals could use the clip-on device to change the votes recorded in the EVM. In India, counting sometimes takes place weeks after voting, so criminals could wait for an opportunity to tamper with the machines while they are in storage. In normal operation, the EVM limits the rate of voting to no more than
5 per minute. However, Clip-on device bypasses the software restrictions of the EVM, so an attacker is able to again forcibly take control of an EVM and stuff the electronic “ballot box” with any number of votes. These attacks are neither complicated nor difficult to perform, but they would be hard to detect or defend against.
3. Dishonest insiders or other criminals with physical access to the machines at any time before ballots are counted can insert malicious hardware that can steal votes for the lifetime of the machines. Attackers with physical access between voting and counting can arbitrarily change vote totals and can learn which candidate each voter selected.
4 The EVM has no means for the voter to verify that his/her votes have been tallied properly.
5. The EVM has no means outside of the memories of the voting machines themselves to audit or recount the votes.
6. Susceptibility to fraud: Although some may believe that tampering with an electronic voting machine is extremely hard to do, computer scientists have tampered with machines to prove that it is quite easily done. If people have access to the machines, and know how to work them, they can take the memory card out of the machine, which stores the votes, and in place they put their own memory card with a virus that can tamper with the votes
7. Government ties of manufacturers: The Government at the time of election may hire any manufacturer or company for manufacturing EVMs according to the needs of the political party in power An EVM can be tampered during manufacturing stage, that too during the manufacturing of the Chip. After tampering the EVM, its difficult to detect it by a third party. When the tampering happens at the manufacturing stage of chip, even those who are assembling the EVMs will not be aware of and cannot detect tampering .
8. Malicious software programming: Any computer software is basically generated from software programming and coding. And all these soft wares could be tampered with by a computer programmer who knows the source code. Testing electronic voting systems for security problems, especially if they were intentionally introduced and concealed, is basically impossible. If malicious coding is inserted by programmers into commercial software that are triggered by obscure combinations of commands and keystrokes via the computer keyboard, then election results can change completely.
9. Physical security of machines:
10. Secure storage of cast votes: The votes that are cast using the electronic voting machines, are stored in a safe storage or space in the computer machine memory. The time gap between election and the counting of votes is a risk to possible hacking and manipulation . The chance of tampering increases as the time gap increases.
Why do other countries rejected EVMs ?
Several countries in the world rejected Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) because they are difficult to secure, easily subject to manipulation and open to large scale fraud and pose a serious threat for free, fair and transparent elections in democratic societies. EVMs are allowed in most states of the US only with a paper back up. Indian EVMs do not produce a paper trail, which is a major drawback . Potential dangers of “vote fraud” and more importantly, lack of transparency and verifiability associated with them prompted ban or restrictions of their use. Developed nations like the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Singapore have so far stuck to voting on paper ballots, owing to their simplicity, verifiability and voter confidence in the system. Some of the countries ho have rejected EVMs are as follows :-
1. Ireland abandoned e-voting in 2006.
2. Italian Minister Giulano Amato stated, "We decided to stop the electronic voting machine. During the 2006 elections we experimented with the machines as a voting system, and not a system that counts the sections, without any reference to the legally valid votes. “Let's stick to voting and counting physically because less easy to falsify.” ( Source of info: http://www.jasonkitcat.com/h/f/JDOM/blog/1/?be_id=320)
3. California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned EVMs in the November 2004 elections as certain security conditions were not met with. Verifiable paper trail & certain security conditions need to be implemented. People want elections results that can be physically verified. (http://www.wvcag.org/news/fair_use/2004/07_01e.htm)
4. Germany's Supreme Court ruled in March 2009 that e-voting was unconstitutional.
5. In the Netherlands, in 2006, licenses of 1,187 EVMs were withdrawn after citizen group 'We do not trust voting machines' showed they could hack into EVMs in 5 minutes from up to 40 metres without the knowledge of voters or election officials. The nation will return to paper voting.” (Publication: ComputerWorld, Dt: 19-05-2008, Author: Andreas Udo de Haes)
6. Supreme Court of Finland declared the result of pilot electronic voting machines invalid in the municipal corporation elections of 2009.
After Hugo Chávez won the 2004 election in Venezuela, it came out that the government owned 28 percent of Bizta, the company that manufactured the voting
machines. The CIA has reported vote-rigging schemes in Venezuela, Macedonia and
Ukraine and a raft of concerns about EVMs & tampering. Stigall who studied electronic systems in about 36 countries said that most countries' machines produced paper receipts that voters then dropped into boxes. However, even that doesn't prevent corruption. ( http://www.mcclatchydc.com/226/story/64711.html)
Should India also ban EVMs?
Speed of election results is obviously an attraction for the EVMs. But saving democracy is more critical than saving election costs or gain in efficiency. Numerous EVM rigging allegations have been made by many prominent personalities.
• "EVMs were manipulated during the poll which resulted in defeat of many Congress candidates," IANS quoted Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad as saying soon after his party's defeat in Orissa in July 2009.
• LK Advani has demanded a paper back-up to electronic voting. Parties such as CPM, TDP, AIADMK, RJD, LJP and Trinamool Congress have joined the chorus.
• In 2001, Capt. Amarinder Singh, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee alleged that EVMs can be tampered with.( ttp://www.tribuneindia.com/2001/20010312/main4.htm
• In 2009, Chandrababu Naidu blamed the EVMs for his defeat. ( http://www.deccanchronicle.com/hyderabad/now,-naidu-blames-evms-720
• In 2009, AIADMK urged the EC to revert back to paper ballots, saying that EVMs were rigged in Lok Sabha polls (http://www.thehindu.com/2009/05/28/stories/2009052850110100.htm)
• When the Indian National Congress surpassed all projections to win 262 seats in 2009, According to Dr. Subramanian Swamy, President of the Janata Party (24-8-2010) , the Leader of Indian National Congress Mrs. Sonia Gandhi reportedly hired hackers to hack into election results of the electronic voting machines, which resulted in landslide victory of the Indian National Congress in the national elections in 2009. (Electronic Voting Machine: Excellent tool of manipulation- by News Desk, December 17, 2011-http://www.weeklyblitz.net/1993/electronic-voting-machine-excellent-tool)
• In 2004, the Hon. Kerala High Court has asked EC to consider representation seeking changes in the EVMs. to consider suggestions of Prof. Satinath Choudhary and address issues concerning possible tampering of EVMs
• On 1st December, 2010, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh announced that there will be full electronic voting system in Bangladesh to arrange the future elections in a flawless manner. But there are serious allegations that a group of "election planners" of the ruling party has already contacted a number of leading EVM hackers in India, including the most infamous "Cyber Army". According to unconfirmed sources, the ruling party influential figures from Bangladesh are already bargaining a "package deal" with the Indian hackers in ensuring a massive victory and re-election of Bangladesh Awami League during the election in 2014 in exchange of a huge amount of money. Initially, the Indian hackers demanded US$ 1 billion for this service; while the figure has already been brought down to US$ 400 million and the ruling party men are optimistic of getting even a cheaper deal with the Indian hackers. Once the deal will be successfully concluded, there will be visibly no way in stopping the ruling party from getting re-elected in the election of 2014. Bangladesh has indigenously developed its own electronic voting machines. Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET) has developed these systems. (http://www.indianevm.com/blogs/?cat=3 )
Nine safeguards recommended by International Electrical & Electronics Engineering Journal (May 2009, p 23) should be incorporated.
EVMs should print a paper record of each vote, to be deposited in a conventional ballot box. This ensures physical evidence and speedy results. A Voter Verified Paper Ballot (VVPB) provides an auditable way to assure voters that their ballots will be available to be counted. Without VVPB there is no way to independently audit the election results.
Use two machines produced by different manufacturers to records votes.
Expose the software behind EVMs to public scrutiny. Having the software closely examined by independent experts would make it easier to close technical loopholes that hackers can exploit.
Booth monitoring: Strict monitoring of the activities inside the polling booth is important to eliminate human elements responsible for frauid and corruption .
EVMs may be needed, but this is not the best option for corruption prone environment that exist in India.
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