Sunday, August 9, 2009

EVM/EC and attention whores

The circus with electronic voting machine has come full circle. I know little bit of technology and I always believed that the fact that the voting machines are made by only two public sector manufacturers and has a set of handling procedures that are physically verifiable makes it pretty much tamper proof.

  • The voting machine has a physical lock that makes sure that it has not been physically opened.

  • The voting machine has the software code in a non-writable ROM makes sure that once the software has been validated, it is tamper proof

  • The voting machine is a unconnected device i.e. there is no chance of somebody hacking into it remotely.

  • The voting machine has no knowledge of the order of candidates on the machine. This is just a manual mapping that is made outside of technology. The machine in the end just tells the number of votes for candidate at each position and the candidate to position mapping is an offline mapping and is maintained using a ballot paper look alike.

The only way the voting machine can be hacked with is somebody opens it, replaces the software code running. Even that is harder it do with well defined results because the the order of candidates on the machine is assigned much closer to the polls.

When somebody as responsible as Saigal who has been a senior bureaucrat in government makes an alligation, people will have to take him seriously and political parties will take him seriously because it is a question of bread and butter for them. But when election commission of India gave them an opportunity to demonstrate the tamper-ability of the machines he did not do much.
Saigal refused to demonstrate the points raised by him, using any of the 100 actual ECI-EVMs he was offered to choose from. He wanted certain arrangements for him and his team of hardware and software professionals from a private company before coming to demonstrate about the tamperability of the EVM. He also offered to show what he claimed as possibility of tampering using his personal computer and a look alike of the ECI-EVM, that was privately manufactured, and is also seen on several TV channels.

It was pointed out to Saigal that the ECI-EVM was not at all comparable with what he had brought. EC officials declined to deal with, what appeared to be an imitation machine, so as to avoid creating any confusion in public mind.

So in nut shell, he never claimed that voting machines can be tampered with, what he claimed that one can make a machine that looks like EVM and that machine can be tampered with. Nobody will argue with that. Actually I will even make another allegation that somebody can make a machine that looks like a EVM and it can be used to fly rockets.

Anyway, the net result of election commission hackathon was as follows.
On Saturday, the Election Commission asserted the infallibility of EVMs citing the failure of persons who had claimed the machines could be tampered with. This has come after a demonstration of 100 EVMs in the EC office that lasted for six days from August 3. These EVMs were randomly obtained from 10 states and kept for scrutiny to establish fallibility. The outcome of this exercise was that none of the persons, who were given the opportunity, could actually demonstrate any tamperability of the ECI-EVM, in any of the 100 machines put on display. They either failed or chose not to demonstrate, said an EC statement.

I hope this matter can be put to rest now. But one never knows.

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