EVM Controversy and Way Forward

EVM with VVPAT

Recently, opposition parties discussed future course of action on the issue of alleged tampering of EVMs. They raised their concern regarding EVMs with Election Commission. Credibility of EVMs were questioned in the previous General elections of Parliament and State Assemblies.

Background:

India is the world leader in the use of EVMs. The Election Commission has been conducting all elections through EVMs since 2001. The Indian EVM is a direct recording device, which is a stand-alone machine.

The Election Commission has clarified several times that Indian EVMs don’t talk to any machine outside its own system – be it through wired network, internet, satellite, and WiFi or bluetooth. The EVM is not connected to server, so cyber hacking of Indian EVMs is not possible unless an authorised person acts with malafide intention.

EVM challenge:

Throughout these years, the Election Commission has denied all the claims of EVM tampering and in 2017, it got a scientific proof to back up its claim. In May, the Bombay High Court had ordered an examination of EVMs from the ‘Parvati constituency in Pune’. The order was issued to rule out tampering during elections to Maharashtra legislative assembly in 2014. One control unit, one ballot unit and two batteries were sent to the lab. An EVM comprises a control unit and a ballot unit. As per the report received from the lab,the machine is a stand-alone, non-networked, one-time programmable unit, which is neither computer controlled externally nor could be connected internally or to any network. The report was made public after being submitted to the high court.

The Election Commission had also thrown open EVM hackathon challenge to prove that the machines are incorruptible. But no political party showed interest.

Methodology for selecting EVMs:

The Election Commission puts in place a multi-layered security protocol to ensure that EVMs record the actual vote. The first-level check of the machines is done by the Election Commission, months before the actual voting. All political party representatives are present to observe the exercise. Faulty machines are removed.

The EVMs are selected by computers on the principle of randomisation. This process does not allow a prior knowledge or planned setting for a particular EVM in a particular constituency or at a particular polling booth. There is a double randomisation process for pairing of the ballot unit and control unit of the EVM. This step makes it impossible for a person to know how the machines would be paired and which machine will be used in which constituency. The final order of the candidates is not placed on the ballot unit of the EVM till the last day of withdrawal of names.

When this is done, usually 13 days ahead of the polling, EVMs are again tested for proper functioning. The representatives of political parties and candidates are present during this exercise. They sign a certificate, saying that the EVMs are in order after the process completes to their satisfaction. Before being finally dispatched to the polling booths, the EVMs are sealed with a unique security number. At this stage too, the representatives of the parties or candidates are present and sign on the seal. The Election Commission places the names of the candidates in an alphabetical order for each constituency to wipe out the possibility of predictability.

On top of it, the Election Commission has stated that all future elections would be held with VVPAT, making it possible for every voter to see that his/her vote goes to the chosen candidate only.

The controversy over failing VVPATs:

Reports emerged of large-scale malfunctioning of the voter-verifiable paper audit trail machines during by-elections to four Lok Sabha and ten State Assembly seats. The malfunctioning was so widespread that the Election Commission ordered re-polls in 73 booths of the Kairana parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh, 49 booths in the Maharashtra seat of Bhandara-Gondiya and one booth in the Nagaland Lok Sabha seat.

The chief election commissioner blamed the malfunction of the VVPAT machines on excessively hot weather and exposure of sensors to light. This is rather worrying, because when the trials for VVPATs were conducted in 2011 and 2012, they were subjected to extreme weather conditions.

The second reason provided by the CEC—the inexperience of the staff, who were handling these machines for the first time—seems more plausible. It is important to mention that it was precisely to remove the last remnants of doubts regarding EVMs that VVPAT machines were introduced, after an all-party meeting in 2010.

In fact, in 2013, the Supreme Court of India appreciated the EC’s initiative to introduce VVPATs and directed the government to provide adequate funds for the same. However, the government delayed sanctioning the funds for over three years, which has almost jeopardised the production of the required number of VVPAT machines to fulfil the EC’s commitment last year in an affidavit to the Supreme Court that it would provide the machines at every polling station during the 2019 general election.

Corrective Measures:

1. The new VVPATs are to have sensors with hoods over them to protect from direct exposure to light.

2. Humidity resistant paper will be obtained for use in humid areas. The decision was made by the Electronics Corporation of India, one of the two state-owned companies that manufacture VVPATs.

The EC’s role in ensuring the people’s faith in democracy is paramount. The loss of public faith in democracy and its protector institutions spells nothing but disaster. But one must have no doubt that EVMs have made India the proud global leader in the field of elections. After the introduction of VVPATs, our system is now full proof.


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