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After the EVM challenge fizzled out, the CPI(M) says the exercise was ``too restrictive''

NEW DELHI: Two days after the Election Commission of India (ECI) held its open challenge to prove that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) can be tampered with, the CPI(M) which had showed up at the event termed the exercise ``too restrictive.'' 
``If the exercise conducted by the EC was for the purpose of increasing the confidence of the political parties, this exercise was too restrictive,'' the CPI(M) said in a statement here on Monday.
As many as 13 political parties had questioned the reliability of the EVMs, but only two parties showed up and later opted out of the June 3 open challenge.  
Later, in a press conference, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi maintained that the EVMs used by the EC are “non-tamperable” and with 100 per cent use of paper trail machines in all future elections the issue of tamperability of the machines “stands closed”.
The CEC's remarks cleared the air with the assertion that there would be no such challenge to the reliability of the EVMs used in the elections. He said though the NCP and the CPI(M) had reported at the challenge venue they had backed out of the taking up the challenge.
On the other hand, CPI(M) said that a technical team comprising hardware, embedded systems and security experts had visited the ECI offices on June 3 for participating in the EVM testing exercise. 
``The team wanted to check not only the EVM's but how the EVMs can be used with a set of safeguards, including Voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT). The issue is not whether EVMs are hackable, the issue is the need to examine the system in its entirety, including the EVMs, the physical and human checks. This is why the CPI(M) team was participating in this exercise,'' the party said in a statement.
``In order to make a deeper analysis of the EVM's, the team wanted to attach hardware probes to the EVM motherboard to develop a better understanding and the potential for hacking of the EVM's. In any case, no EVM can be hacked without analysing the EVM, and simply pressing buttons; or using external wireless devices.The EC denied this request, saying that it was not included in this Phase. Under such restrictive conditions, the team was unable to make an independent assessment of the EVMs, and hence suggest technical improvements or other safeguards,'' the party said.
``While we can accept that the EC's contention that the hardware of the EVM should not be changed, as this would make it a different machine, we are unable to appreciate why a physical examination of the EVM as outlined in EC's Challenge II should not have included attaching instruments and generating a better understanding of the EVM and its communication within its various sub units,'' it said.
The CPI(M) admitted that prima facie there are robust precautions, but without a detailed technical examination as asked for by the CPI(M)'s technical team, this remains to be independently verified.
The CPI(M) has maintained that VVPAT EVM should be used in all elections as per the Supreme Court mandate in 2013. It expressed disappointment over the fact that the government took this long to release funds for the procuring the VVPAT EVMs.
The CPI(M) believes that technical discussions between the EC, political parties and other stakeholders regarding current and future EVM design choices should be held on a regular basis. 
The Challenge, Counter Challenge and Hackathons as it is being done by certain parties and the EC, builds an adversarial atmosphere which is not conducive to building confidence in the electoral process, it said.   

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