Controversy is brewing over an Indian cyber expert’s claim that EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) were hacked in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections which the BJP had won by a landslide margin. Reacting strongly to the allegations, the Election Commission rejected the claims and insisted that the EVMs were foolproof and that it was ‘wary of becoming a party to this motivated slugfest’. Addressing a press conference in London via Skype, the individual, identified as Syed Shuja, said he fled India in 2014 because he felt threatened in the country after the killing of some of his team members. Although he appeared on screen through Skype, his face was masked. Shuja claimed that he is seeking political asylum in the US. Shuja, however, provided no proof to back up his claim. Shuja also alleged that other than the BJP, the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, AAP and Congress too were involved in the rigging of the EVMs. EVMs can record a maximum of 3,840 votes and can cater to a maximum of 64 candidates. There are 543 Lok Sabha constituencies and an equivalent number of seats in the Lower House of Parliament. To win a simple majority more than 272 seats are therefore needed. BJP won 51.9 percent of all seats in 2014 elections. In the 2014 election, 66.4 percent out of the total electorate of 834,101,479 voted.
A research paper published in July 2014 and titled ‘India’s Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs): Social construction of a “frugal” innovation’ authored by Maximilian Herstatt and Cornelius Herstat, noted, “EVMs in India are unique and quite different from EVMs employed in other nations like the US. Rather than large, expensive, complex and computer like systems the Indian machine is praised for its simplicity, inexpensiveness, and efficiency. The Election Commission of India is very proud of this system and stated that the machines are perfect and tamperproof. Those overly positive remarks caused scepticism amongst political parties, activists, academics and voting security specialists. It has been argued that the simplicity of EVM design has negative implications as well, when it comes to questions of transparency, verifiability and the overall security of the election practice. Although the ECI generally claims that EVMs are tamperproof and perfect for the Indian elections, there have been occasions where EVMs malfunctioned and had to be replaced.”
The paper also noted that after the outcome of the 2009 General Election political parties and concerned citizens claimed that EVMs could have been tampered and caused a wrong election outcome.