[Burning Issue] Concerns with Electronic Voting Machine

Context:

  • 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.

About:

Out of 120 democratic countries only 25 have experimented with or used electronic voting machines to elect their governments. It indicates that EVM is not a dominant choice globally for recording votes in elections.

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.
  • In 2014, a whopping 55.38 crore people cast their votes in EVMs in the parliamentary elections.

Arguments that are in favour of Paper Ballot

Following arguments question the EVM system and support Paper ballot.

  • We invariably come across reports of malfunctioning EVMs.
  • The only way an EVM can be tampered with is by physically opening it up and replacing the chipset inside it. The chipset used is non-reprogrammable and data is ‘burnt’ into the device. So, today it is possible to replace the chip if we have access to EVMs
  • On the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) front too, there are reports of malfunctioning. Also, as per the rules, paper ballots and VVPAT machines are not counted until the Returning Officer asks for it.
  • The outcome of the recent Uttar Pradesh civic polls suggests that tampering could be happening.
  • Oldest democracy, US, still uses paper ballot system for the presidential elections as Americans feel safer in using paper ballots as compared to electronic voting machines.

However, there are problems with paper ballot.

  • Transporting them and guarding them is a problem.
  • Ballot boxes can be captured.

Arguments in support of significance of EVMs

  • EVMs led to a significant decline in electoral fraud, particularly in politically sensitive States as rigging elections became extremely expensive.
  • Research has shown a link between luminosity and growth rate, suggesting that EVMs contribute to development.
  • EVMs empowered those from the weaker sections of society who were victims of political or electoral violence. In particular, women, lower castes, and those less educated were more likely to participate in the electoral process when EVMs were used.
  • EVMs made the electoral process more competitive.
  • There has been a significant decline in the incidence of re-election, and winning margins have reduced dramatically.

However, this does not imply that we lower our guards. The very idea of democracy is based on trust and belief in the fairness of the electoral process where the losing party lives to fight another day. Any erosion of this trust and belief would be an irreversible process with an uncertain outcome.

EVM challenge: Forensic Lab test for EVMs

  • 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.

How the world has dealt with EVMs:

USA: 

  • The US is the oldest modern democracy in the world but it does not have a uniform voting system.
  • Several states continue to use ballot papers, while others have shifted to electronic voting.
  • A critical point in electronic voting experiment in the US has been that its voting machines are connected to a server and operate using the internet. This makes them vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
  • In the last presidential election, some invisible Russian hand was suspected in influencing voters’ choice.

Germany:

  • Electronic voting was introduced in 2005 in the largest democracy of Europe.
  • Germany imported voting machines to conduct its elections from a private company in the Netherlands.
  • The machines were later reported to have several layers of deficiencies.
  • In 2009, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany held that the use of electronic voting machines in elections was unconstitutional and observed that such a practice lacked transparency.

Estonia:

  • Became the first country to enact a law making electronic voting using the internet mandatory in 2005.
  • Estonia claims to have conducted the first internet-based national election in 2007. It went for three days.

Latin America:  

  • Brazil and Venezuela have been using electronic voting on a large scale quite successfully.

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)

Voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) or verifiable paper record (VPR)

    • Following a PIL by Subramanian Swamy, Supreme Court asked EC to introduce VVPAT.
    • VVPAT is a slip generated in a printer-like a machine attached to EVM and flashes voter’s choice of candidate and party. Generated slip is shown for a few seconds to the voter to cross check before it falls into a sealed drop box which can be opened during counting. Under VVPATs, initially, election results are announced based on the recording of votes given by EVMs. If the election results are disputed, then the votes recorded under Paper Trail System shall be counted and announced. If there is any discrepancy between the two results, then the result given by VVPAT will prevail over the EVMs.
    • The Supreme Court has supported the EC endeavour to use VVPATs in a phased manner to usher in more transparency in voting.

When the solution became the problem: 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 taken by EC:

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

Conclusion

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.

 

  • Subscribe

    Do not miss important study material

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
Notify of