VVPAT debate

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Amid allegations of EVM tampering in the recently concluded state polls and by-polls in 5 states of Punjab, Manipur, UP, Goa, and Uttarakhand have reignited the controversies and raised questions on the fairness of elections in our democracy. Some have demanded revert to ballot paper system and others for wide scale investment in VVPATs. In this article we discuss the various aspects around this issue and how VVPATs can be a solution to a transparent electoral process. Electoral reforms have always been a favourite topic of UPSC and undoubtedly VVPAT analysis in this context makes it a potential question in this year CSE Mains 2017.

 

What are the ensuing issues?

  1. In the recent episode of state assembly elections many political parties have raised questions on vulnerability of EVMs and allege result fixing and whether EVMs are tamper-proof?
  2. In the back drop of the media reports that a VVPAT machine showed discrepancies during a demonstration exercise in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind, concerns are rife about whether EVMs are a reliable medium for fair and transparent elections in the country. Further questions are being raised if people are casting their votes or machines itself deciding it?
  3. Most of the advanced democracies like USA, Germany and Japan continue to rely on paper ballots.
  4. Cross checking and auditing is not feasible, unless equipped with VVPATs.

 

Introduction:

In the wake of the above controversy the Election Commission intends to use voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) in all coming elections to bring in more transparency and boosting the confidence of people in the electoral process. ECI has sent multiple reminders to the Central government to release adequate funds for manufacture of VVPATs.

 

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What is VVPAT?

  1. 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.
  2. VVPATs are a second line of verification and are particularly useful in the time when allegations around Electronic Voting Machines’ tampering crop up.
  3. After voting, the VVPAT machine dispenses a paper slip with the name, serial number and symbol of the candidate voted for.

 

Advantage VVPAT:

  1. The Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is a method that provides feedback to voters.
  2. It is an independent verification printer machine and is attached to electronic voting machines.
  3. It allows voters to verify if their vote has gone to the intended candidate.
  4. 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.
  5. If there is any discrepancy between the two results, then the result given by VVPAT will prevail over the EVMs.

Working procedure of EVM’s equipped with Voter-verified paper audit trail

  1. VVPAT device functions like a printer to be attached to the ballot unit.
  2. Once the vote is cast it dispenses a paper slip showing the symbol on which it is cast.
  3. The voter can only see this slip through a screened window.
  4. After seven seconds, the slip automatically gets cut and falls into a sealed drop box.
  5. The machines can be accessed, though, by the polling officials and not by the voter.
  6. The printout is deposited in a box and can be used to resolve any dispute regarding the election.

 

Flipside Arguments: Election Commission’s response to allegations

  1. ECI said that EVMs can neither be reprogrammed nor controlled by the external device. The source
    code is so designed that it allows the voter to cast the vote only once. The next vote can be
    recorded only after the Presiding Officer enables the ballot on the Control Unit. In between, the
    machine becomes dead to any signal from outside.
  2. The Election Commission said that the comparison between EVMs in India and abroad, where they have
    failed, are both misplaced and misguided. This is because most of the systems used in other
    countries are PC based and running on the operating system. Hence they are vulnerable to hacking.
  3. But EVMs in India are the standalone machine without being part of any input. The software in the
    chip is one time programmable and is burnt into the chip at the time of manufacture. Nothing
    can be written on the chip after manufacture. Thus there is a fundamental difference between
    EVMs in India and abroad.

Way forward:

  1. The Supreme Court has supported the ECI’s endeavor to use VVPATs in a phased manner to usher in more transparency in voting.
  2. The recent cabinet decision to release funds of Rs 3173 crores for 1.6 million Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) units attached electronic voting machines (EVMs), is a positive step in line with ECI’s strategy for the 2019 next general election.
  3. Two public sector units —Electronic Corp. of India Ltd (ECIL) and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) have been approached for manufacture of those VVPATs.

Conclusion:

A free and fair election is the key requirement for sustaining the faith in the democratic ethos and thus, all such allegations on the integrity of EVMs shall be put to test by the ECI with active involvement of political parties. The increased usage of VVPATs attached EVMs are a major step in strengthening democracy as directed by the Supreme Court. It should be followed up with other electoral reforms like Right to rejection, transparency in political parties and their election finances, disqualifying criminals from contesting elections on filing of charge sheets etc as recommended by various law commissions. Political parties should come together irrespective of their positions and decide upon these electoral issues in order to further strengthen the largest democracy in world.

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