The Election Commission on Tuesday told the Madras High Court that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) cannot be tampered with by any wi-fi or radio device and that electronic devices are not capable of interfering with EVMs.
This was part of the submissions made by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in their counter-affidavit filed in response to the Court’s queries on a plea moved by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party for directions to ensure free and fair Legislative Assembly elections.
The matter was disposed of by a Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy today after recording ECI’s assurances on various fronts including the security of EVMs, video surveillance of polling stations, VVPAT counting and the age of the voting machines to be used. Senior Advocate P Wilson appeared for the DMK; Advocate Niranjan Rajagopalan appeared for the ECI.
The assurances made by the ECI include the following:
- Identification of critical and vulnerable polling boothshas been done after consulting 12 major political parties. The final list of such booths was accidentally released to political parties by electoral officers in Tirupur and Dindigul, the ECI told Court today. The Commission added that the information pertaining to the remaining critical/vulnerable booths cannot be released to the political parties on account of security concerns. The Court has accepted the submission. It also declined to peruse the full list of such polling stations submitted in sealed covers, choosing to rely only on the submissions made in open court.
- CCTV coverage and webcastingwill be there for 100% of critical or vulnerable polling stations (about 11,000 – 537 critical and 10, 813 vulnerable booths). This would be part of the nearly 44,000 polling stations that would have such monitoring, constituting about 50% of all polling stations in Tamil Nadu. Electoral officials will monitor the activity being surveilled on election day. Others or the general public would not have such real time access. However, this footage will be recorded for inspection later. Chief Justice Banerjee orally cautioned that the ECI should ensure that the footage is not tampered with. “You control it… but not a second of it should be wiped out, there should be no glitch,” he said.
- M3 voting machines,which were manufactured between 2017-2019, would be used for the elections. Older machines would not be used.
- VVPAT counting– Random counting of votes in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directions would not affect Returning Officer’s power to do a random counting of votes on the candidate’s request. However, the Court cautioned “an arbitrary of whimsical request by a political party to stall the election process or to merely desire that the paper trail should be counter to abuse the candidate may not be a good ground for the Returning Officer to accede to such request.”
- EVM Security- Pre-poll guarding of the EVMs would be conducted in accordance with the Election Manual. EVMs handed over to the polling booth is checked before polling is started and only if it reveals “nil” votes, is the machine used. Every EVM is sealed, and the candidates’ signatures are obtained across the seal. The seals are not opened or broken till the period of limitation after the conduct of the poll runs out and no challenge to the election to the relevant constituency has been made. The EVMs cannot be tampered by any wi-fi or radio device. The Election Commission also cuts off supply inside the strongrooms where the EVMs are stored, both at the pre-poll and post-poll stages, not because the machines are affected by any electrical activity but to ensure that there is no cause for any fire by short circuit. The Commission added that the prohibition on electronic devices, mobile phones etc in counting rooms and strong rooms is also a measure of abundant caution and not because electronic devices are capable of interfering with EVMs in any manner or form.
The Court proceeded to dispose of the matter, adding,
“It is hoped that this day next week will pass of as peacefully and uneventfully as today seems to be going. However, Election Commission should be alert and proactive and most importantly ensure that the second surge of the pandemic is not accelerated by the activities undertaken on Election Day.”