The allegations regarding the transparency of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) have ignited a debate in this country. After Bharatiya Janta Party secured historic mandate in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati alleged the winning party with the EVM tampering. In the UP post-result press conference, she outrageously pointed out the doubts over the veracity of these voting machines. Subsequently, Samajvadi Party also went vocal on EVM tempering debate, sooner picked up by the Aam Aadmi Party Convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal after the defeat in Municipal Corporation of Delhi election. Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodiya said the BJP party has mastered to tampering EVM since UP win and now they have graduated to ‘hacking’ the EVM for MCD results in their favor. But how justified the allegations are without knowing the details about our EVM?
EVM was first used in Kerala By-Poll elections in 1982 in Parur assembly constituency. This election was declared ‘null and void’ by the court as it rightly said that the ‘Representation of People’s Act’ explicitly talks about the Election Commission to conduct elections through ballot papers. Then the law was amended in the December 1988 and enforced in 1989. From 2004 onwards, the entire voting system is carried out by EVMs.
10 Facts and Advantages of EVMs, Know Your EVM
An EVM consists of two units- a Control Unit and a Balloting Unit, joined by a five-meter cable.
The Control Unit is with Presiding Officer and the Balloting Unit is kept inside the voting compartment. EVMs can record a maximum of 3840 votes. It can cater to a maximum of 64 candidates. In case the number exceeds, we will get back to ballot paper.
The total number of voters will not exceed 1500. However, the capacity of voting machines is more than sufficient.
The EVMs have been devised and designed by the Election Commission in collaboration with two Public Sector Undertakings; Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangaluru and Electronic Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad.
The machines will record only ‘five’ votes in a minute. It minimizes the possibilities of miscreants polluting the polling booths. There is a ‘close’ button on the EVM which once pressed reject the chances to record bogus votes any further.
EVMs save a huge cost of papers. It also ends the hassle of transportation, printing of ballot papers and its storage.
Counting is very quick so the results can be declared within 2-3 hours.
There are ‘no invalid votes’ under this system of voting. During the ballot papers regime, there were large number of invalid votes. Sometimes, ironically, the number of invalid votes were more than the winning margin. But now in the era of EVM, the choice of the electorate will be more correctly reflected.
The ‘hacking’ debate, Defence of EVM
Instead blaming the EC or the EVM, the political parties must learn the physical attributes of an EVM. The software used in an EVM cannot be altered as it operates with ‘Standalone’ software. Standalone softwares cannot be rigged or say ‘hack’ because they are not connected to computers, like a calculator. In other countries, the EVMs are connected to computers which is vulnerable to hacking. The chip inside an Indian EVM is one-time programmable, which is burnt during the time of manufacturing, hence there is no scope of tempering or hacking. The inbuilt chip can never be rigged as it is totally against the nature of the ‘Standalone’ mechanism.
The buttons on EVMs are not permanently fixed. It is fixed in alphabetical order of the candidates’ name. So with every other polling booth, the sequence of the political parties can change.
Global Reference On EVM Ban By Losing Parties.
Currently, the BJP is defending the transparency of EVM. But way back in 2009, the same party had questioned it. In fact, the current spokesperson of BJP, GBL Narsimha Rao also wrote a book on EVM’s malfunctioning, introduced and acknowledged by Lal Krishna Advani, which is a reference book for many sitting in the opposition. Nevertheless, we must do some fact check.
Journalist turned politician AAP’s Ashutosh spoke after the MCD defeat on a private news channel that Michigan University had considerably ‘proved’ that EVMs can be ‘hacked’. In fact, the example he quoted is manufactured and distorted. In the year 2009, a techie Hari Prasad accompanied by some computer science students and Michigan professors rigged the EVM, altering the ‘hardware components’ of the EVM. There was no proven software hacking, as Ashutosh claimed, or malfunctioning recorded in the standalone processing. Later on, EC issued a clarification that EVMs are safe and cannot be tempered. The same year, the then congress government booked Hari Prasad and he was jailed under the charges of stealing the EVM.
In the Netherlands, the EVMs were banned in 2006. A ‘Dutch Public Interest Group’ recorded a video later broadcasted on national television that how one can hack the EVM? In Netherlands, the EVMs were connected to internet so it becomes vulnerable to hacking which is certainly not in Indian case.
Ireland, after the worth 51 million pounds spent, decided to junk all EVMs. Germany banned it after the court said it to be unconstitutional because of transparency. England and France have never used EVMs. In the United States, many states like California and others have banned it due to paper trail.
EVM and the way forward, VVPAT
In the wake all the allegations, comes the concept of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT). VVPAT works like a printer. Inside the polling booth, there is a Balloting Unit. With this unit is attached the VVPAT. When a voter casts his vote in the favour of a candidate ‘X’, the VVPAT will generate a ballot slip with the candidate’s name X, party symbol of X and serial number X in a sequence. It will be displayed on a screened window for seven seconds. The slip will automatically cut and drop in a sealed drop box. The voters would not receive that receipt as it will harm the secrecy of votes which might be a threat.
VVPAT was first used in ‘Noksen Assembly Constituency’ in Nagaland in 2013. In the Subramanian Swamy vs Election Commission of India in 2013, Swami failed to prove the machines could be tampered with. In the response to his petition, the Apex Court directed the EC to equip these machines to VVPAT systems.
The Union Government has approved the proposal to buy 16,15,000 VVPAT machines for 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.
One important thing which must be discussed is the use of ‘Totalizers’. The ‘Totalizers’ are interface which are connected to multiple VVPAT systems to count results without disclosing the booth-wise counting results. As it dangerous to announce votes booth-wise, why not to use ‘Totalizers’? The former Election Commissioner of India Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi said, “we asked for the opinions of political parties on using ‘Totalizers’ in counting but they denied as they wanted to know booth-wise results for booth management for the next elections. So don’t blame EC.”
So, in the current scenario, the defeated political parties must introspect the reason of losing elections but not to blame the sanctity and transparency of a world renowned institution, the Election Commission. They should fall in the debate of VVPAT and ‘Totalizers’ but not in some futile, baseless and irresponsible allegations on EVM. Like the Technical Evaluation Committee in 2006 called 100 experts across the country to demonstrate the functions of EVM then said that it cannot be tampered or hacked from a distance as it has no decoder or server. Repeating the same, the Election Commission came on front foot and drove the ball of allegation out by inviting similar experts, IITians, techies for an open challenge to ‘hack’ the EVM.