In his brilliant piece here, ex-IAS Kannan Gopinathan sir writes a letter to the CEC highlighting potential vulnerability of EVMs towards hacking. Brilliant, pure genius! This is easily the most logical and serious critique of EVMs’ vulnerability towards hacking I have come across. Hats off and huge respect for him.
Now I don’t know whether EVMs can be hacked or not. I am not qualified to answer that. However, let me just assume whatever he says is true. And then let us ask, what is the probability of the nation knowing, if indeed EVMs are systematically hacked.
There is a crucial step during the counting which, as a gold standard, can tell us whether EVMs have indeed been hacked or not. We assume that the paper slips of VVPAT represent the true vote, so the various candidates’ votes counted from EVM should match those counted from VVPAT paper votes. As per Election Commission’s guidelines, in every assembly constituency (and one lok sabha constituency contains many assembly constituencies) 5 EVMs’ votes should be 100% verified against the VVPATs’ votes. This meant that in the 2019 lok sabha elections, 20,625 EVMs were manually and 100% verified against the VVPATs. This counting takes place on a separate counter in the counting room only. Counting agents of all candidates are present on that counter just like all other counters. Each paper vote is shown to all counting agents present before being counted. Finally the tally is matched with EVM’s results. Thus there is absolutely no way this counting can be fudged or managed, hence it serves as our gold standard.
So our question really becomes, if indeed some EVMs are hacked, what is the probability of catching the hacked EVMs in this VVPAT-EVM matching? To do this, lets take 2019 lok sabha election data as shown below from (1) to (7). There amount to be about 3002 EVMs used in each constituency and out of these 38 are randomly picked up for our gold standard testing at the counting time.
Now it is clear that the higher the number of EVMs rigged, the higher the probability of it being caught in this test. So anyone who wants to influence the election results and do so silently, would want to rig the minimum number of EVMs which is sufficient for him. And he would do so only in those constituencies where there is a close fight or so. Although we take various scenarios and present results for the same, in the example below, let us assume that the party rigging the EVMs did so in only 50 lok sabha constituencies and even in those just 1% of EVMs in each constituency or about 30 containing about 11,050 votes on average were rigged.
Now what is the probability that in this constituency, when we pick 38 EVMs at random for testing, none of these 30 rigged EVMs turn up (and we ain’t caught)? Well the number of non-rigged EVMs is 3002-30 = 2972. So if we select any 38 out of these 2972 good EVMs, we won’t get caught. There are 2972C38 or 2972!/(38!*2934!) (where n! is n-factorial or n * n-1 * n-2… * 2*1) ways of choosing the good EVMs. And total number of ways of choosing 38 EVMs for testing out of the 3002 EVMs is 3002C38 or 3002!/(2964!*38!). Thus the probability of picking up only good EVMs in this testing per constituency is the former divided by the latter or 0.68 in this case. This means there is 1-0.68 or 32% chance that if 1% EVMs are rigged in this lok sabha constituency, it would get caught! Fairly high? Not so high? Ok. This is just for 1 constituency. What is the probability that despite rigging in 50 constituencies, none of it shows up in the gold standard testing? It is easy… 0.68 * 0.68 * 0.68 *…. 50 times. Because 0.68 is the probability of not getting caught in 1 rigged constituency, there are 50 rigged constituencies and we don’t want to get caught in any rigged constituency so in reality the probability would be 0.68 ^ 50 which is almost 0. So the probability of EVM hacking getting caught in this gold standard testing across the country in this scenario is really almost 1 which means that literally there is no way EVM hacking will go uncaught!
|1. Total number of parliamentary seats||543|
|2. Total number of EVMs used in 2019 lok sabha elections (ECI data)||1630000|
|3. Average number of EVMs per constituency ((2)/(1))||3002|
|4. Total number of EVMs tested against VVPAT in the country (ECI data)||20625|
|5. Avg no. of EVMs tested per constituency ((4)/(1))||38|
|6. Total number of votes polled (ECI data)||600000000|
|7. Avg votes polled per EVM ((6)/(2))||368|
|8. Total constituencies rigged||50|
|9. % EVMs rigged per constituency||1.00%|
|10. Total EVMs rigged per constituency ((9)*(3))||30|
|11. Total votes rigged per constituency ((10)*(7))||11050|
|To ensure that in the number of EVMs tested, the rigged EVMs don’t show up|
|12. No. of non rigged EVMs ((3)-(10))||2972|
|13. Ways of selecting non rigged EVMs for testing ((12)C(5))||1.42617E+87|
|14. Ways of selecting EVMs at random for testing ((3)C(5))||2.09391E+87|
|15. Probability of selecting only non rigged EVMs in testing in 1 constituency ((13)/(14))||0.68|
|16. Probability of selecting at least 1 rigged EVM in testing in 1 constituency (=1-(15))||0.32|
|17. Probability of selecting only non rigged EVMs in whole country ((15)^(8))||0.00|
|18. Probability of selecting at least 1 rigged EVM in testing in whole country (=1-(17))||1.00000|
If we change the assumptions regarding the percentage of EVMs being hacked in one constituency and the number of constituencies where EVMs are hacked, the results of probability of getting caught are presented in the tables below. See yourself!
Thus table 1 tells you that if a party hacks say 1% of EVMs in a constituency, it can on an average influence only 11,050 votes and runs a 32% chance of getting caught. If it wants to rig more votes say about 55,000 it has to rig 5% EVMs but this increases its probability of getting caught to 86%. In a lok sabha constituency, there are typically over 11 lakh votes polled. So decide for yourself, is it worth the risk?
In Table 2 below, one can see the probability of getting caught if one party tries to manipulate EVMs in multiple constituencies. So lets say if it hacks 1% EVMs in just 25 constituencies, there is a 99% chance it will get caught somewhere! Definitely not worth the risk.
While Kannan sir has highlighted a potential vulnerability, some elementary math here tells us it is still a distant dream to hack EVMs and systematically impact Indian elections!