Can Electronic Voting Machines be TrustWorthy?

In the light of recent controversy regarding the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), what are the challenges before the Election Commission of India to ensure the trustworthiness of elections in India?

In foresight of overcoming certain problems associated with use of ballot papers and taking advantage of development of technology for ambiguity free voting, removing the possibilities of invalid votes totally, the Election Commission in 1977 mooted the idea of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). Since 2000, EVMs have been used in various General Elections to State Legislative Assemblies and 3 General Elections to Lok Sabha held in 2004, 2009 & 2014. However, over the years the issue of possible tampering of EVM has been raised before various High Courts since 2001.

Controversial Issues

  • After declaration of result of the recently held General Elections to the State Legislative Assemblies of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, some political parties have raised voice against the credibility of the ECI-EVMs, alleging tampering and manipulation of EVMs during the said elections wherein the machine has been so set in advance as to the vote will be made to a particular party irrespective of whatever the choice made physically without the voter knowing it.
  • Various administrative and technical glitches where in certain poll booths during Delhi municipal elections, 2017 and Kairana and Noorpur by-elections the EVM’s and VVPAT’s stopped working owing to sensor
    paralysis due to hot weather and humidity.
  • Alleged hacking, issue of EVMs only storing votes. Verification of vote is not possible and eventually promoting favoritism wherein a candidate can know how many people from a polling station voted for him.

The Election Commission has rejected these allegations and unequivocally reiterated the credibility of EVM’s with technical and administrative safeguards in view of them being stand alone machines, non manipulable
by signals from any sources.

Example mobile phones. EVM is burnt into a one-time programmable chip thus can never be tampered with. Moreover, the source code of the software is not handed over to any outsider. Also the use of totalizer machines and VVPAT’s have been started to eliminate the aforesaid issues.

A Totalizer unit which can connect several balloting units and would display only the overall results from an Assembly or a Lok Sabha constituency instead of votes from individual polling stations thus eliminate favoritism and VVPAT system enables EVM to record each vote cast by generating the EVM slip, thus allowing a fool proof voting system in place after the Supreme court verdict on Subramanian Swami’s PIL. Also in June 2018, Election Commission of India decided that all VVPATs will have a built-in-hood to prevent it from excess light and heat.

Challenges before the Election Commission of India

  • To regain trust and confidence of all stakeholders in the election system in India amidst cases of political opportunism and political aversion towards use of EVM. Recently ECI also introduced innovative measures like organising workshops, EVM Hackathons for wider credibility establishment.
  • Introduction of VVPAT is an appreciated move. However, lacunae in VVPAT technology should be immediately addressed. Measures include: making it independent of battery, include the usage of sustainable inks and reducing sensitivity to heat and light.
  • Employment and proper training of workforce to manage errors and technological snags
  • The EC announced that it will count V-VPAT slips up to a definite percentage. A proper statistical method should be deployed for while deciding on the required proportion of tallying V-VPAT with
    EVMs. At present it only involves randomly choosing booths.
  • Invest more to upgrade technology and procurement of required logistics in time.
  • Rather than moving to paper ballot system of election, the focus should be on improving the efficiency, credibility and transparency of the EVM-VVPAT enabled electoral process.
  • Targeted focus on increasing the voter awareness and electoral literacy to make them more decisive and empowered in making their choice, along with being the first line of audit in ensuring a fair and just election process

The Election Commission of India has been able to nourish India’s democratic health since independence by improving the quality of election management. Elections are the cornerstone of every democratic process.
It is through this process that first footsteps into Rule of law, freedom for speech, transparency etc are laid. Any hollowness in this will change the course of all the institutions of the political system which are at the heart of maintaining people’s faith in democracy itself.

EVM’s play a vital role amidst this in the fate of a candidate and also voters who cast their vote with the hope that it will bring the change that they seek in the country. Therefore, rather than going back to paper-ballot which (too can be tampered) and be inefficient we need to embrace newer technologies and make them fool proof to make the elections fair and just elections which is also mandated by the constitution under Article 324 and is a ‘basic structure’ of the democracy.

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