Electronic Voting Machines (“EVM”) are being used in Indian General and State Elections to implement electronic voting in part from 1999 elections. EVMs have replaced paper ballots in local, state and general (parliamentary) elections in India.
Recent political haul is going in country regarding EVM tampering has undermine the sanctity of the electoral process in the democratic country. There were various claims regarding EVM’s tamperability and security which have not been proved.
Recent allegation had questioned the Election commission; it is trying hard these days to re-establish its credibility, the EC has reiterated that EVMs cannot be tampered; with it has made public the findings of inquiries into specific charges of tampering in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan that give a clean chit to the machines.
The plea was also sought to probe allegations of alleged tampering of EVMs during polls, including the recent Assembly elections in five states. The plea sought examination of the quality, software or malware and hacking effect in the EVMs from a reliable electronic lab and scientist and software expert.
In the wake of several political parties questioning whether electronic voting machines are tamper-proof, the Election Commission now plans to introduce an advanced version of EVM ahead of the 2019 General Elections.
What is an EVM and how exactly does it work?
EVMs or electronic voting machines provide the voter with a button for each choice which is connected by a cable to an electronic ballot box.
An EVM consists of two units–control unit and balloting unit–and these two are connected by a five-meter cable. When a voter presses a button against the candidate he/she wishes to vote for, the machine locks itself.
This EVM can be opened only with a new ballot number. This way, EVMs ensure that one person gets to vote only once.
Why is India using EVMs?
Electronic voting machines have been in use in India since 1999. Using EVMs means doing away with paper ballots, and in turn, saving millions of trees from being cut.
It makes the entire process of voting simpler–a click on the button and your vote is registered.
EVMs, in the long-run, have turned out to be cost-effective as well. Although the initial cost of an EVM is between Rs 5,000 and Rs 6,000, the machine, on an average, lasts for 15 years.
These machines don’t require electricity and run on batteries. At the same time, the EVMs are lighter and portable compared to the huge ballot boxes.
And most importantly, EVMs have made the vote-counting process much faster, delivering results in hours as against manual counting of votes which could take days.
Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) – a step towards transparency
After concerns were raised on whether EVMs are tamper-proof, the Election Commission appointed a committee to look into the possibility of linking the EVMs with VVPAT
VVPAT is a small printer like machine attached to EVM which allows to the voters to verify that their vote has been cast correctly. Once a voter casts his vote, a small paper slip containing the name of candidate and poll symbol is generated from VVPAT machine. The paper slip appears for about 10 seconds. After the voter views the receipt, it automatically goes inside a sealed box attached to the EVM.
The VVPAT system first introduced during the 2014 general elections by the Election Commission. The system was first largely experimented during Nagaland by-elections in 2013.
Among the recently held elections, VVPAT units were used in all 40 the constituencies of Goa, 4 in Uttarakhand , 20 in Uttar Pradesh, 4 in Manipur and 8 in Punjab.
VVPAT machines will be used in all polling stations for the general elections in 2019 as the EC has already asked for an additional fund from the government.
EVMs with VVPAT system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system because vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in democratic system.
The EVM, just as any other machine, needs to constantly evolve in order to remain secure and workable under any condition while at the same time keeping its operations simple. The introduction of the VVPAT should enable another layer of accountability to the EVM.
To seek to improve the use of EVMs and to secure them better is one thing; to call them faulty machines which are being deliberately manipulated by a pliant system that is in cahoots with dominant political actors is another, considering the experience of its use for the past two decades and repeated clarifications and improvements made to them by the ECI. This amounts to delegitimising the entire system of an accountable and independent ECI that conducts elections with the participation of other administrative actors as watchdogs and checks over it.
Connecting the dots:
There is a strong case for introduction of EVMs with VVPAT system. Write brief note about VVPAT system and how it can help restore the confidence of the voters.
Restoring confidence in EVM is not just a legal issue but also holds key to restoring confidence in idea of democracy as a whole. Discuss.