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Elon Musk Vs Rajeev Chandrasekhar Vs Rahul Gandhi: The great EVM debate

Elon Musk Vs Rajeev Chandrasekhar Vs Rahul Gandhi: The great EVM debate
The debate over the safety and sanctity of electoral processes using electronic voting machines (EVMs) have been a long, and often unfruitful, discourse across most electoral democracies. However, on Sunday, a similar debate in India took an interesting turn as the richest person on the world and India's former Minister of State for the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology engaged over the same topic on social media.

In a Sunday showdown on X (formerly Twitter), former Union minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar took on tech magnate Elon Musk over the security of EVMs. Musk had raised eyebrows by labeling EVMs as risky due to potential hacking threats, but Chandrasekhar was quick to fire back, calling Musk's claim "a huge sweeping generalization".

The debate ignited when Musk suggested scrapping EVMs entirely, citing hacking risks from both humans and AI, referencing voting irregularities reported in Puerto Rico's primary elections. Responding to the independent US presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr's concerns over voting irregularities in Puerto Rico, Musk posted, "We should eliminate electronic voting machines. The risk of being hacked by humans or AI, while small, is still too high."

Similar doubts have been cast over the use of EVMs by the Indian election commission for the last two decades. However, ever since several sweeping victories of the ruling party BJP at both central and state levels since 2014, such allegations have gained pace from multiple mainstream opposition leaders.

Chandrasekhar was clearly not happy with Elon's claims. He countered, "This is a huge sweeping generalization statement that implies no one can build secure digital hardware. Wrong." He stressed that Indian EVMs are a different breed compared to their global counterparts. "Indian EVMs are custom-designed, secure, and isolated from any network. No connectivity, no Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Internet—there is no way in. Factory programmed controllers that cannot be reprogrammed," he elaborated.

Doubling down on his retort, Chandrasekhar offered to educate Musk on the secure architecture of Indian EVMs. "We would be happy to run a tutorial, Elon," he quipped.

Musk, undeterred, responded with a succinct retort: "Anything can be hacked."

This is a huge sweeping generalization statement that implies no one can build secure digital hardware. Wrong. @elonmusk 's view may apply to US n other places - where they use regular compute platforms to build Internet connected Voting machines.

But Indian EVMs are custom…

— Rajeev Chandrasekhar 🇮🇳 (@RajeevRC_X) June 16, 2024 ]]>

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also joined the fray soon, expressing his concerns about the opacity of Indian EVMs. He described them as a "black box" and argued that the lack of transparency undermines democracy. "Democracy ends up becoming a sham and prone to fraud when institutions lack accountability," Gandhi stated, referencing a media report on an alleged EVM unlock linked to a relative of a Shiv Sena candidate in Mumbai's north-west constituency.

Gandhi also referenced Musk's stance on eliminating EVMs. The chorus of skepticism around EVMs has been a consistent theme among opposition parties in India, who have long advocated for a full count of VVPAT slips—a demand yet to be met by the Indian Election Commission. The commission, however, has repeatedly dismissed concerns over EVMs and demonstrated their safety in multiple ways. Advocates of democratic sanctity even claim that casting doubts over the electoral process threatens the very fabric of a robust democracy.

This ongoing debate highlights a significant divide: on one side, leaders like Chandrasekhar defend the integrity and security of India's EVMs and advocate their use for greater efficiency in elections. On the other, Musk, Gandhi, and several other leaders across the globe have raised serious concerns about their vulnerability and lack of transparency. As the debate continues, the question of how best to secure democratic processes in the digital age remains a hot topic.

(With inputs from PTI)


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