VVPAT Issue is related to Cyber Laws

Naavi was the first person in India to have raised the need for making EVMs cyber law compliant.

It was way back in 2001 when that Naavi first flagged the possibility of Hacking in Indian Elections.  It was pointed out at that time itself that the EC should recognize that under ITA 2000, any election malpractice could be called as Hacking and imprisonment of upto 3 years could be invoked on those who indulge in booth capturing and related offences.

Again in 2003 when an incident was observed in Tamil Nadu where a sticker of one party was fixed in front of a candidate of another party to mislead the voters, a more detailed analysis of what makes EVMs cyber law compliant was discussed. (Refer here)

The essence of the problem was that the EVM was a system where a paper ballot paper is pasted on the face of the EVMs containing the buttons which were internally connected to a counter. It was therefore possible for the paper ballot to be manipulated so that the votes given for one person as per the printed ballot paper actually went to another candidate inside the machine.  It was considered as inappropriate legally to thus link a paper document to an electronic data base.

A Solution was also suggested which was

a) Replace the front of the machine containing the ballot paper with a touch sensitive screen and display the candidates list along with the symbol (now photo can be included) and provide for the voter pressing on any part of the row.

b) Once the Vote is thus cast, display the ballot paper with the vote mark as the old paper ballot paper used to look along with a time stamp.

c) Calculate the hash value of the displayed document and print the hash value with time stamp on a roll of paper sealed inside the EVM.

I can boldly say that the EC did not understand the benefit of such a system and even now may not be able to appreciate why this system was suggested.

At that time, the only issue was the cost of a touch screen of the size required for the EVM and the need to replace the available units.

Now after 15 years we are back to discussing how to make EVMs more reliable. The EC has now adopted the VVPAT system which involves a second unit, printing on a roll inside  the second unit and capturing the vote slip in a box.

The Cost of EVMs today are much higher and the addition of the VVPAT as a separate unit along with the need to transport it secure it etc makes it perhaps more expensive than the earlier proposal. The touch screens have also become much economical now and I have a hunch that the solution suggested by me would be far more cost effective.

I therefore urge the Government to even now consider this suggestion seriously.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court is expected to hear the PIL filed by the opposition parties who have demanded that 50% of the VVPATs are to be manually counted. This is after their earlier request for 100% counting having been rejected.

Mr Chandarababu Naidu is personally attending the hearing in the Supreme Court to add the Political touch to the hearing. The CJI himself is under great pressure as the lobby against him is creating personal pressure through the harassment case.

The Supreme Court may therefore be under great pressure to oblige to the opposition demand and take India back to the days of manual ballot paper system.

However, I would like the Supreme Court to keep in mind that “Counting VVPAT Slips” is not the same as “Counting of paper ballots”.

ITA 2000 renders VVPAT to be an “Electronic Document”. It is not a paper document. Hence the laws under ITA 2000/8 apply along with Section 65B of IEA as to the recognition and admissibility of the VVPATs in Court proceedings.

Once the Court agrees to VVPATs being counted, a question arises as to what will happen even if an insignificant difference arises between the electronic counting and the manual counting of the electronic documents called VVPAT slips.

Firstly the legality of manual counting of an electronic document is questionable. It is like manually counting the rows of a table as displayed in the computer screen and using it as an over riding of the electronic counting which the computer may display as “Number of Rows”.

Just as the physical paper pasted on the electronic document should not be linked to the button with an electronic circuit inside, the electronic document of VVPAT slip if counted manually will not be legally valid.

Secondly, the intention of the voter is expressed when he presses the button on the EVM (Unit 1 ). That unit has captured the “Button Press” in its data base which gets counted electronically.  The VVPAT on the other hand is a secondary tool which is provided to enable the voter to be satisfied that his vote has gone to the right party. What the VVPAT unit displays is only a secondary confirmation and not the primary vote. If the voter sees any discrepancy, he has a right to object immediately. If not it is presumed that the secondary confirmation is acceptable.  The secondary confirmation is displayed in the VVPAT by an instruction sent by EVM. Though this follows the initial pressing of the voting button, the VVPAT instruction goes after the vote is registered. Hence it is a transaction which occurs after the voting process is over.

The VVPAT slip therefore does not have any legal validity as a “Vote”.

If therefore a discrepancy arises between the EVM and VVPAT, then the EVM count has legal validity and the VVPAT count only creates confusion and controversy. Having accepted the VVPAT manual counting, tomorrow we may not be able to ignore even if the vote difference is just one or two as in principle it may mean that the Electronic counting was not correct and therefore has to be cancelled.

If the Supreme Court is naive to accept this politically motivated PIL, then it will give room for a complete disruption of our election system which has been hailed the world over.

I therefore urge that the Supreme Court takes a proper decision that protects the integrity of the elections and donot give room to the anti national opposition parties to disrupt the democratic system in the country by discrediting our system of EVMs.

If necessary in future, EC can adopt the Naavi model of EVMs suggested above and strengthen the system further both technically and legally.

These opposition parties have proved both in West Bengal and in Amethi that even the EVM based voting can be rigged with booth capturing. It is unfortunate that the EC and the Supreme Court does not take suo-moto action in such cases but is serious on mischievous litigation of the opposition parties.

What is again under test in this case is the ability of the Supreme Court to understand techno legal issues and also its ability to steer clear of politicization of litigation in the Supreme Court.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Naavi

(P.S: Report has come that SC has rejected the PIL. We welcome the decision)

Some of the earlier articles:

Hacking and Indian Elections

Cyber Law Compliance and Electronic Voting

Clarifications on Cyber Law Compliance of EVMs

Hacking and Indian Elections …Naavi.org

Cyber Law Compliancy and Electronic Voting…Naavi.org

PIL Filed on EVMs in Supreme Court..Naavi.org

Order Passed on PIL on EVMs..Naavi.org

EVM Controversy

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