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21 May 2017

Poll panel sets tamper test date - Each party can field 3 experts and pick 4 EVMs used in Assembly elections

Nasim Zaidi inspects an EVM before the news conference. (Prem Singh)
TT, New Delhi, May 20: The Election Commission today invited political parties to prove that electronic voting machines used in the recent round of Assembly elections could be tampered with, saying they could demonstrate their claims under the watch of technical experts from June 3 onwards.
The commission has not set a time limit for what it called a "challenge".
Chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi, who briefed reporters on the framework for the demo after an elaborate presentation on EVMs, said the challenge as of now was open for "four-five days".
He said a clearer picture on the duration would emerge on May 26, the deadline for the parties to nominate their representatives for the demonstrations on machines that were used in the recent polls in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand.
Some Opposition leaders had alleged that it was possible that EVMs had been tinkered with in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP had romped home to a landslide win.
Zaidi said all parties eligible for the challenge at Nirvachan Sadan, the commission's headquarters, would be sent letters today itself, apprising them about the modalities of the demonstration.
The poll panel chief asserted that he had full faith in the impregnability of EVMs but sought to assure the parties that the commission would not stand on prestige on this issue as improving the conduct of elections was a "shared objective".
The challengers, he added, would be judged not by the commission but by a panel of four technical experts who have agreed to monitor the demonstrations for free.
Zaidi said all recognised national and state parties that contested in these elections could nominate three experts. The experts, who have to be Indians, could pick four EVMs - barring those already under election petitions or have been sealed by a court - from among those used in any of the five states.
Asked why foreign experts had been barred, poll panel sources said the matter was about elections in India.
Based on the nature of the allegations, the commission has split the challenge into two forms. According to the first, parties that have claimed that EVMs were tampered with to favour a particular candidate or party would have to alter the results in the control units in exactly the same scenario in which the machines remain under the commission's technical and administrative safeguards after elections.
What this means is they will have to prove their claims in strong rooms or during counting by either pressing a combination of keys or using an external device - wireless, Bluetooth, mobile phones, etc. - on the central unit (CU), balloting unit (BU), or both.
The CU is the unit that poll staff press to release a ballot, signalled by a beep. The BU is the one a voter presses.
The other form is for those who claimed that EVMs were tampered with before or during the poll day. They too will have to press a combination of keys or use an external device - on the CU, BU or both - in exactly the same condition in which the machines remain before elections.
Zaidi ruled out a demand from some quarters that the commission permit them to take the EVMs with them or allow them to change their internal circuit.
"Changing the internal circuit of any electronic device is like changing the whole device itself, after which it is no longer the same device," he said, clarifying that the challengers would be allowed to open the machines for a visual inspection.
The Aam Aadmi Party had earlier sought permission to change the motherboard of an EVM, something it claimed could be done in 90 seconds. Atishi Marlena, a member of the AAP's political advisory committee, said a party delegation would meet the commission to understand the terms and conditions of the challenge.

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