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Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk. File photo

Chandrasekhar claims Indian EVMs secure; Musk asserts ‘anything can be hacked’

Musk’s comment came in response to a post by US’s Independent presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy on EVM-related voting irregularities in Puerto Rico

Diving into the debate on the security aspects of EVMs, Tesla boss Elon Musk has said the machines should be “eliminated” from the polling process as the risk of them being hacked by humans or Artificial Intelligence is still high.

As former Union minister and BJP leader Rajeev Chandrasekhar tried to claim on X that Indian EVMs are secure, Musk retorted that “anything can be hacked.” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also retweeted Musk's post and reiterated that transparency in India’s electoral process was under doubt.

How it started

Musk’s comment came in response to a post by the US’s Independent presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy who shared an article on the alleged voting irregularities linked to Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Rico’s primary elections just experienced hundreds of voting irregularities related to electronic voting machine, according to the Associated Press. Luckily, there was a paper trail so the problem was identified and vote tallies corrected. What happens in jurisdictions where there is no paper trail?” Kennedy posted on X.

He asserted that to avoid such discrepancies, the US should return to paper ballot so that all votes are accounted for.

“US citizens need to know that every one of their votes were counted, and that their elections cannot be hacked. We need to return to paper ballots to avoid electronic interference with elections. My administration will require paper ballots and we will guarantee honest and fair elections,” he said.

We should eliminate EVMs: Musk

Replying to Kennedy’s post, Musk said EVMs must be eliminated altogether.

“We should eliminate electronic voting machines. The risk of being hacked by humans or AI, while small, is still too high,” he said.

The discussion comes in the backdrop of the Puerto Rico Election Commission’s admission about EVM-related irregularities during the primaries.

According to the interim president of the poll body, Jessika Padilla Rivera, the Dominion Voting Systems-supplied EVMs miscalculated votes due to a glitch in the software.

Authorities, however, were able to correct the vote tallies through a paper trail.

Indian context

The issue recently gained prominence in India when voting was underway for the Lok Sabha elections. While there were concerns over EVM tampering, the Supreme Court rejected petitions seeking hundred per cent cross-verification of votes cast through EVMs via Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail machines.

Reacting to Musk’s statement, former Chandrasekhar said the Tesla CEO had made “a huge sweeping generalization” and explained briefly how Indian EVMs are different.

“This is a huge sweeping generalization statement that implies no one can build secure digital hardware. Wrong. Elon Musk’s view may apply to US [and] other places — where they use regular compute platforms to build Internet connected voting machines,” he posted on X.

The BJP leader went on to explain that “Indian EVMs are custom designed, secure and isolated from any network or media”. They have no connectivity, no Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or Internet, “i.e. there is no way in”; they have “factory programmed controllers that cannot be reprogrammed”.

Chandrasekhar added thar EVMs can be architected and built right, as India has done. “We wud be happy to run a tutorial Elon (sic),” he added in his post.

However, Musk replied to that, “Anything can be hacked.”

Chandrasekhar replied: “Technically ur right - anything is possible E.g..wth quantum compute, i can decrypt any level of encryption, with lab level tech n plenty of resources, i can hack any digital hardware/system incldng flight controls of a glass cockpit of a jet etc etc. But thats a different type of a conversatn from EVMs being secure n reliable vis a vis paper voting. And we can agree to disagree (sic).”

Indian EVMs a “black box”: Rahul Gandhi

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi also retweeted Musk’s post with the caption that said EVMs in India are a “black box” which nobody is allowed to scrutinise, and asserted that “serious concerns” are being raised about transparency in India’s electoral process.

“Democracy ends up becoming a sham and prone to fraud when institutions lack accountability,” Gandhi said and tagged a media report that claimed a relative of Shiv Sena’s candidate, who won the polls from Mumbai North West by 48 votes, had a phone that unlocks an EVM.

Opposition parties have been raising concerns over EVMs for some time now.

(With agency inputs)

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