A group of former bureaucrats has written to the Election Commission of India, asking for a social audit of the last General Elections in order to establish its integrity and fairness.

In a letter dated November 19, they cited various media reports to say that unauthorised private engineers had access to electronic voting machines and Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail, or VVPAT, machines. The VVPAT is a printer attached to voting machines that allows voters to verify that their ballots have been cast as intended.

The former bureaucrats said Bharat Electronics Limited and Electronics Corporation of India, which manufacture the machines, have refused to respond to Right to Information queries about voting machines and VVPATs.

The signatories to the letter pointed out that the doubts about the voting machines were “yet to be resolved satisfactorily”, and urged the Election Commissioners to end the controversy. “Recent reports also seem to suggest that a programme installed in the VVPAT can access VVPAT memories and alter the input to the Control Unit, thereby manipulating the people’s mandate,” they added.

The former bureaucrats pointed out that social audits were an accepted tool in democracies to monitor the functioning of various social sector programmes. The process has been used in India too, they added, and offered their services to the polling body if such an audit is conducted.

Proposals for audit

The signatories put forward a few proposals to the polling body. A social audit group comprising representatives from civil society outfits and the Election Commission should be given access to the entire electoral records, including EVMs and VVPAT machines used in 20 select Lok Sabha constituencies, they said. These parliamentary constituencies will be chosen by the group, they added.

The former bureaucrats also advised the polling body to release these records, voting machines, and VVPAT machines “under whatever supervisory arrangement it considers necessary to ensure that while the auditors have full access, these records are not tampered with in any way during the audit”. However, the arrangements agreed upon cannot impede the auditors’ ability to examine the records and machines in any way necessary, they added.

The group of auditors should have the freedom to appoint an independent team of Information Technology experts from India or from abroad, in consultation with the polling commission, that has the experience of conducting hackathons “to test the integrity and security system of the EVM and VVPAT machines”. There should be no restriction on the hackers, and “they would be free to check the hardware, the software, and also the programmes embedded in the chips of all these machines to determine whether the EVM/VVPAT machines are capable of being manipulated either before, during or after each step of the electoral process”, added the former bureaucrats.

These machines used for the hackathon should be disabled under the joint supervision of the auditors and the Election Commission “to ensure that none of these is ever used again in any future election”, they said.

Former Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Shipping and Transport SP Ambrose, former IAS officer Harsh Mander, former Health Secretary K Sujatha Rao, and former Coal Secretary Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan were among those who signed the letter.