Indian court refuses to direct Election Commission on paper records on EVMs

Subramanian Swamy had asked the court to order a return to ballot boxes or provide a paper trail on electronic voting machines

A court in Delhi on Tuesday declined to direct India's Election Commission to have paper receipts of votes recorded on electronic voting machines (EVMs), or go back to ballot paper.

The High Court of Delhi said that there may be security issues with EVMs, as pointed out by petitioner Subramanian Swamy, a prominent politician, and asked India's Election Commission to resolve the issues in consultation with stakeholders including the country's Parliament.

Swamy had earlier argued that EVMs could be tampered with, a view he shares with a number of researchers and activists in the country.

He said in a telephone interview that the Election Commission will now have to have to get into consultations with all concerned parties, including him, to resolve the security issues. "You can say that, de facto, I have won the case," he added.

The Election Commission of India was not immediately available for comment. It called in December for elections over the next three months in five states where EVMs are to be used without a paper trail.

Swamy predicted that there will be a paper trail by the time the country holds its next elections, but most probably it will go back to ballot papers, as some European countries have done, he said.

The Election Commission tested EVMs with a paper trail in mock elections last year, but there were some shortcomings found, said an official of the Election Commission who asked not to be named.

The manufacturers of the EVMs have been asked to make improvements, and after an unsatisfactory demonstration in December, they will again demonstrate a modified machine in February, the official said. The decision of the court will not affect the Election Commission's plans to test these devices for a paper trail, he added.

India first tested EVMs in a by-election in 1982. The machines were first deployed on a large scale of over 1 million EVMs in a general election in 2004.

By 2010, security researcher Hari Prasad and his associates had released a video that they said demonstrated vulnerabilities in the EVMs. To prove that voting records could be fiddled with, the researchers had hacked an EVM that had already been used in an election.

In a hack of the EVM control unit, Prasad and his team replaced the display board of the machine with a look-alike component that could be instructed through a Bluetooth connection on a mobile phone to steal a percentage of the votes in favor of a chosen candidate.

The researchers also used a pocket-size device that could be attached to the memory of the EVM to change the votes stored in the machine during the period between the election and the public counting session.

The EVMs are vulnerable to tampering at a number of stages at the time the software that runs them is burned onto their chips, during their storage before an election, and during the period between the voting and the counting of the votes, the researchers said.

Prasad was arrested for his efforts last year for alleged theft of the EVM. He told the police that the machine had been brought to him by an unknown person.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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