ECI guidelines clearly mentioned that strongroom must be video-graphed 24×7, only authorized personnel must be allowed, EVM should not be moved, mandatory presence of police/CRPF etc. Following is one of the concluding paragraphs from the ECI status report:
The machines are non-tamperable, both due to technological measures, and also due to strict administrative and security procedures laid out by ECI, whereby no access to EVM/VVPAT is allowed to any unauthorized person. Hence, these are protected from any tampering/manipulation whether before the polls, or during the polls, or after the polls, in storage or transportation from manufacturer to the State/District or vice versa, or when transported from one state to another.
Status paper containing guidelines and other information is either removed or moved to some other location as the original link is not working. Here is an archived link of the document. You can also find the report on google drive. The report which contains a brief EVM introduction, socio-political feedback, EVM design & manufacturing protocols and historical uses of EVM in other countries, has a special focus on EVM safety and security which describes technological safeguards, administrative procedures and storage & transportation protocols. Both election and non-election periods have different storage and transportation protocols. Following are election period protocols for EVM safety and security.
Storage and Transportation Protocols
Election Commission of India ensures the storage and transportation of EVMs/VVPATs remain under the strict control of ECI at all times through the following procedures and instructions:
DURING NON-ELECTION PERIOD
It list protocols related to physical verification of EVMs, storage of EVMs, Movement of EVMs, protocols for repairs and EVM tracking software.
DURING ELECTION PERIOD
Physical Verification of EVMs
If there is a general election during the year, the DEO shall carry out 100% physical verification of EVMs during the First Level Checking of the EVMs and send the report to the Commission through Chief Electoral Officer in the prescribed format.
Storage of EVMs
After FLC and first randomization of EVMs, EVMs shall be handed over to the Returning Officer/Assistant Returning Officer concerned. The Returning Officers shall follow the following guidelines:
- RO/ARO shall store the EVMs, allocated for his constituency, in a strong room in the presence of representatives of National/State Level Political Parties, under videography. EVMs meant for training and awareness of voters shall be kept in a separate strong room so that strong room having EVMs (including reserve EVMs) meant for poll need not be opened before preparation of EVMs. Reserve EVMs are those EVMs which are used to replace a malfunctioning/defective EVM on the poll day. The Reserve EVMs are duly prepared with Candidate setting and ballot paper fixing like other EVMs earmarked for polls and are subjected to the same standards of security and storage protocols.
- Thereafter, RO shall open the strong room having EVMs (including reserve EVMs) meant for poll at the time of preparation of EVMs (candidate setting) in the presence of candidates/their representatives, under videography.
- After preparation of EVMs at RO level, EVMs including reserve EVMs shall again be kept in strong room in the presence of candidates/their representatives, under videography.
- Thereafter, RO shall open the strong room having EVMs (including reserve EVMs) on the day of dispersal of polling parties in the presence of candidates/their representatives, under videography.
- After completion of poll on the Polling Day, the polled EVMs shall be escorted back to the strong room for storing in double lock system in the presence of candidates/their representatives, under videography.
Procedure to be followed for storing polled EVMs in strong room
- All Presiding Officers or the Collecting Parties should deposit the voting machines and election papers and materials at the storage centres without any avoidable delay. Any officer who defaults in this respect will make himself liable to disciplinary action.
- Returning Officer may earmark inside the storage room or building, specified parts of the floor space in the form of squares in advance for stacking the voting machines received from particular polling stations. The arrangement for this should follow the serial number of polling stations.
- All Balloting unit(s) and control unit received from one polling station must invariably be kept together at one place on the same square. The control unit should be kept on top of the Balloting unit(s). One copy of the Part I of Form-17 C, as filled by the concerned Presiding Officer of each polling station, should be kept on top of the control unit pertaining to the polling station. Sealed envelope containing the declarations made by the Presiding Officers before the start of the poll and at the end of the poll should also be kept in the strong room with polled EVMs. The duplicate copy of the account of votes recorded and the paper seal account should be kept under your safe custody along with the Presiding Officers Diary and other records like Register of Voters(17A), reports of Sector/Zonal magistrates, Additional inputs provided by the Presiding Officer (refer ECI instruction in this regard) etc. Under no circumstance, these papers/records should be put in strong room where polled EVMs are kept.
- Sufficient space should be left between rows of voting machines as they are being stacked so that other machines received subsequently out of turn (from the point of view of serial numbers of the polling stations) may be kept at their appropriate allotted space without the necessity of having to shift any of the voting machines received and stacked in earlier point of time.
- If any of the contesting candidates so desires, he may be permitted to post an agent to keep watch at the place where the voting machines are stored pending the counting and allow him to affix his own seals to the doors and windows of the building in which voting machines have been stored in addition to the seals that may be affixed by you. It should also be ensured that immediately after all the voting machines have been received and stored, the room is locked forthwith. Thereafter, no one is allowed to go in until the morning of the day fixed for counting. If during this interval, for some unavoidable reason, the room has to be opened you should send for the candidates or their authorized representatives by giving them intimation in writing and open the room in their presence and immediately after the purpose for which the room is opened is over, this room should be closed and sealed and the candidates or their representatives should again be allowed to put their seal on the doorlock and windows.
- Whenever it is necessary to open the room in which the voting machines are stored, proper entries should be made in the logbook giving details of the persons entering the room, the purpose of such entry, time of entry, time of exit, signature of the guards, etc. These instructions will also apply mutatis mutandis to the storage of the voting machines during the interval between the original count and the recount, if any.
The following instructions shall be strictly followed for the security and safety of strong rooms where the polled EVMs are kept for counting of votes
- The strong rooms should have double lock system. One key should be kept with District Election Officer and the other with Returning Officer of concerned assembly constituency.
- Three cordoned security arrangements should be made round the clock for the strong rooms having polled EVMs kept for counting of votes. The CPF should man the innermost perimeter security immediately outside the strong room and the State Armed Police should man the outermost perimeter security.
- All contesting candidates should be intimated in writing to depute their representatives to keep a close watch on security arrangement of strong room. They should be allowed to stay outside the inner perimeter at a location, which enables them to view the entry points of the strong room. As far as possible, facilities such as proper shade, drinking water, etc. shall be provided to them. If there is no direct view to the entry point of the strong room, CCTV may be arranged at such location, from where they can see the strong room door on CCTV. In such a case, they may be taken periodically to the inner perimeter in batches, to see, verify and satisfy themselves regarding the security of strong room. The CCTV display of Strong Room shall be arranged on a large TV screen at the place earmarked for the representatives of Political Parties and agents of the candidates, so that they can continuously monitor the Strong Room.
- A control room adjacent to the strong room SHOULD BE operative round the clock.
- A Gazetted officer along with a senior police officer should be put on duty round the clock for monitoring the security arrangements of strong room.
- There should be sufficient arrangement of fire extinguishers near and inside the strong room.
- There should be an arrangement round the clock for the security of unused EVMs also.
- No one should be allowed to enter the inner perimeter without adhering the following protocols:- (a) The log book shall be maintained by the CPF in which entry should be made about date, time, duration and name(s) of person(s) crossing the second security ring i.e. the middle perimeter. This includes visits by the Observers or DEOs or SPs or candidates or their agents or any other person. (b) Video cameras should be provided to the CPF contingent to record all visits made by such visitors.
- It should be ensured that there is uninterrupted power supply at the strong room locations during the entire period wherein EVMs are stored. CEO may address the Chairman of Electricity Board concerned separately regarding this. Local Electricity Board officials should be asked to ensure the same. Contingency arrangement of stand-by generators should be made to ensure uninterrupted power supply.
- The phone nos. of CEO, Addl. CEOs, DEC in-charge in the ECI and the DEO/SP/COP/ROs concerned should be given to the candidates, who may provide the same to their representatives, keeping vigil at the strong room location(s). The candidates may advise their representatives to contact the officials, in case of any emergency.
- All the entry points (doors etc.) of strong rooms should be under constant videography using the web-cams and laptops available. If there are other doors of the strong room, they should also be covered by the web-cams/videography.
- Returning Officers should visit the storage campus (upto the inner perimeter only) every day in the morning and evening and check the log book and videography and send a report to the DEO on the status every day. In case of strong rooms located in the district headquarters, the DEO should do the same. Where the strong rooms are situated outside the District Headquarters, DEO should visit the same as frequently as possible and at least once in 3 to 4 days.
- No vehicle, including that of any official or ministers or any other political functionary, should be allowed inside the secured campus where the EVMs are stored. Alighting point for the vehicles should be marked clearly ahead of the outer security perimeter itself beyond it, it should be a pedestrian zone only.
- DEOs and SPs shall be personally responsible for security of strong room within the district and meticulous implementation of the protocol. The copy of this Manual should be made available to all candidates, DEOs, ROs and CPF commandant.
- On the day of counting of votes, the strong room shall be opened in the presence of candidates/their representative, RO and Observer under videography.
- After completion of counting of votes, Control Units shall be sealed as per existing instruction of the Commission. Thereafter, EVMs (Balloting Units and Control Units) shall be shifted back to Strong Room for safe storage.
Under rule 94(aa) of the Conduct of Elections Rules 1961, the guidelines of the Commission on retention period of the EVMs after using in election and for using the same in the subsequent elections, are as under:
A. Every Voting Machine (EVM) used in an election and kept in the custody of the District Election Officer shall be kept untouched, under the standard protocol of security, till confirmation of Election petition position from the High Court concerned after the completion of the period for filing Election Petition i.e. 45 days from the date of declaration of the result.
B. In the case of elections, where no election petition has been filed or no other court cases are pending, after the aforesaid period, the EVMs may be allowed to be used by the Election Commission for any future election or any other purpose like movement, physical verification of EVMs, etc.
C. In case of any election where election petition has been filed, the following action shall be taken:
- If the EVMs are the subject of the election petition, the EVMs used at all Polling Stations in the constituency concerned shall continue to be kept in the safe custody of the District Election Officer, till such time the Election Petition is finally disposed of by the Courts.
- If the EVMs are not the subject of the election petition, an application may be moved to the concerned Court for allowing the EVMs concerned to be taken out of the strong room for any future election or any other purpose like movement, physical verification of EVMs etc.
- In case EVMs not involved in any Election Petition/Court Case are stored with the EVMs involved in Election Petition/Court Case, with the Court’s permission, the following procedure shall be followed for segregating the EVMs not involved in any election petition/court case form the EVMs involved in EP/Court case:- (a) A Notice informing the opening of Strong Room having EVMs involved in EP/Court Case shall be given to the petitioners/respondents of the EP/Court Case and the representatives of all political parties in writing at least 72 hours in advance, requesting them to remain present at the time of opening of strong room. (b) The strong room shall be opened in the presence of the District Election Officer, Petitioners/respondents of the EP/Court case and representatives of Political Parties. (c) The EVMs not involved in any EP/Court Case shall be segregated from the EVMs involved in EP/Court Case for taking out of the strong room. A list of EVMs being so taken out from the strong room shall be prepared. (d) The EVMs, which are not involved in any EP/Court Case, should alone be taken out of the Strong room. (e) The entire process shall be videographed. (f) A copy of the list of EVMs being taken out from the strong room and copy of videography shall be given to the petitioner/respondent of the EP/court case and acknowledgement taken.
D. If any other Court Case is pending, like, booth capturing, etc., in which any EVM is involved, the EVM concerned or the EVM(s) used at such Polling Station(s) concerned may also be kept till the final disposal of the said case.
E. After the final disposal of the election petitions or other court cases, as the case may be, referred to above, the EVMs can be used for subsequent elections.
Thus, the technological security features along with administrative safeguards defined by ECI, together make EVMs non-tamperable, leaving nothing to chance, whether in manufacturing, storage, transportation or during use in elections. While design features like using OTP chips, technical safeguards like non – connectivity of EVMs with computers, internet, wireless or wired for any unwanted communication, and numerous internal precautions like encoding to protect data integrity, the administrative safeguards rule out any possibility of tampering by offering transparency via 24×7 scrutiny by party representatives and their participation in sealing and signing important spaces during election. In this way the Indian EVM used by ECI is unique in the world and non-tamperable under the control and custody of ECI.
Undoubtedly, guidelines are crisp and clear. But the question of where and how the loopholes exist remains because of which certain people not only try to hack a democratic process but also never get caught. If you have any idea which might help ECI to draw a better strategy or improve election procedure, please write them on email@example.com or call their control room at 23052220 and 23052221. It seems, the given email is only meant for complaint registration. I wish there was a ticket-based feedback form. It is not necessary that your idea is implemented, but it will be good to see that it is heard. You can find phone numbers of ECI officials here.