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EC under cloud post-Guj polls: Suspicion around EVMs exacerbates as insiders say it can be "compromised"

By Our Representative
Amidst growing fear that the Election Commission (EC) of India has reached "the lowest point" in its history, especially after TN Seshan, as Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in the first half of 1990s tried to turn in into "an independent institution", the smell of suspicion around EC appears to have exacerbated both among general public and sections of intellectuals, not excluding top officials, following the Gujarat polls.
Things have gone so far that it is not just maverick leader Hardik Patel, Patidar quota leader, who is ringing the alarm bell around the electronic voting machines (EVMs) having been compromised. While a large number of voters Counterview talked to during Gujarat polls wondered if EVMs were "reliable", a top Gujarat government insider went so far to tell Counterview that he has " checked" with software engineers who tell him that EVMs' functioning can be easily compromised hacked.
"I was told that all one needs to do is a small change in the software of the chip inserted into EVMs by just adding one line -- transfer a certain percentage of votes, say two or five or six, from one party to another", this insider said.
While the view that the EC has been "siding" with the Modi government has already many takers, including SY Quraishi, previous CEC, who called refusal to announce election dates for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh in October an EC "error", insisting, it "invites questions" and "could undermine EC’s credibility", top psephologist Yogendra Yadav has said, Gujarat elections have "highlighted the growing fragility of EC."
According to him, "The inexplicable delay in the declaration of a polling schedule, double standards in responding to media coverage of Rahul Gandhi, and BJP leaders accentuated the suspicion that the EC has been packed with loyal officers", adding, "Besides shrinking autonomy, EC also suffers from lack of professionalism."
Accusing it of oscillating between "spinelessness and knee-jerk over-reach", and questioning the "quality of appointees", Yadav says, today EC "faces new challenges for which it is professionally ill-equipped: production and supervision of EVMs, regulation of social media, checking of tax accounts of political parties..."
Already, reports have appeared in a section of the media quoting one of the manufacturers of EVM chips, Microchip, as admitting that though its "products are among "the most secure... on the market today, ...dishonest and possibly illegal methods" could be used to "breach the code protection feature". Microchip insists, "Code protection does not mean that we are guaranteeing the product as unbreakable."
Meanwhile, a keen citizen has raised a major flutter around chief electoral officer, EC, BB Swain admitting during a media interaction that a "mismatch of some votes" on one booth each on four seats during the scrutiny of EVMs and Voter Verified Paper Trail (VVPATs) because of a human error by the Returning Officer was "resolved" by counting VVPAT slips.
Through a series of tweets, one Ravi Guatam (@gautamravi168) calculates, "There was mismatch between EVM and VVPAT slips on four out of 182 seats" in Gujarat state assembly, which suggests "more than 2% mismatch". Calling 2% vote share "questionable" because it is six lakh votes, Guatam says, for verification of EVMs "EC randomly selected one booth per seat for VVPAT slip counting".
He argues, "Why one booth per seat is illogical? On an average, 5,000 votes can change the result, i.e. votes from three booths. On an average, there were 275 booths/constituency", hence there was a huge "probability of detecting fraud", adding, "In general, the average victory margin in state assembly is 5,000-6,000 votes" and "the entire result can change within the error margin of the EVM system."
Noting that he has not talked of hacking, Gautam says, he has calculated that there would be "1,102 possible mismatched booths in 182 constituencies", which means "approximately six mismatched booths per constituency" because "one EVM can store around 3,800 votes."
"Assuming" on an average EVMs were half filled, the total number of questionable votes per seat would be 11,400, Guatam says, this is based on the the premise set by EC, which takes one booth per constituency as representative sample. But there are in all 50,128 booths, he says, adding, applying the mismatch to all would give the result: "Questionable booths = 4*50,128/182 = 1,102."
Gautam wonders, "EC accepted that there were 4 mismatch and used VVPAT slips for counting, but what about other 1,098 booths? The debate about democracy should be between citizens vs governments, not BJP vs Congress. Congress may not take this up seriously because it will put a question mark on their 80 seats in Gujarat election and Punjab victory."

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