Supreme Court says EVMs are accurate unless they are maligned by human bias

Top court schedules hearing on Thursday (April 18), on the eve of the first phase of the Lok Sabha election

April 16, 2024 09:42 pm | Updated April 17, 2024 07:30 am IST - NEW DELHI

Poll officials assemble EVMs and VVPAT machines during their training for the Lok Sabha polls, in Bhopal.

Poll officials assemble EVMs and VVPAT machines during their training for the Lok Sabha polls, in Bhopal. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court on Tuesday disagreed with the idea of a return to paper ballots to restore the “little man’s” confidence in the electoral process, saying machines give “absolutely accurate results” unless human bias maligns them.

“Human weaknesses, including bias, may lead to a problem. Machines without human intervention would give absolutely accurate results,” Justice Sanjiv Khanna, heading a two-judge Bench, observed.

The court was open to the testing of the “actual performance” of electronic voting machines (EVMs). It said the review should be wholly based on data provided by the Election Commission, and not opinion garnered from private quarters, including polls about EVMs.

The court fixed the hearing on Thursday (April 18), on the eve of the first phase of the Lok Sabha election.

The Bench, also comprising Justice Dipankar Datta, peremptorily rejected the idea of returning to paper ballots.

“We are in our sixties… We have seen in our lives what happened when it was ballot papers. We have seen the drawbacks of the past,” Justice Khanna said.

The court was hearing separate petitions filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and by Arun Kumar Agarwal highlighting the voter’s fundamental right to information about his vote.

The petitioner clarified they were not attributing malice to the EVMs. Their only issue was that the EVM system did not provide voters with confirmation or confidence about their votes. The voters’ interface was with a button. They had no way to know that the machine had accurately recorded their votes. The VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) machine showed the slip only for the blink of an eye, seven seconds, after the vote was cast.

EDITORIAL | Overkill: On only a 100% recount of VVPATs

“I am not talking about the urbane voter in this courtroom. I am talking about the queues of multitudes who are hustled into the polling booths to press a button and hustled out, not knowing what really happened. Leaving aside the foibles about the past regarding ballot papers, that system had at least given the little man confidence that he had put his little cross across the right party symbol,” senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for Mr. Agarwal, submitted.

“I am unable to confirm my vote. My physical contact with my vote has gone completely,” Mr. Sankaranarayanan said.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan said the voter leaves the booth with no sense of accuracy.

Mr. Bhushan suggested three options — revert to paper ballots, give VVPAT paper slips to voters for them to put in the ballot box and finally to make VVPAT screens transparent glass rather than opaque, as it was now.

The petitioners have also sought 100% cross verification of VVPAT slips with EVM votes count. They said while the government had spent nearly ₹5,000 crore to purchase nearly 24 lakh VVPATs, only slips from approximately 20,000 VVPATs could be verified.

They have referred to a reported judgment of the top court in 2013 in Subramanian Swamy v. Election Commission of India that the election process should “have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters”.

Mr. Bhushan noted that European countries like Germany had gone back to paper ballots.

Justice Datta said there were 98 crore registered voters in India compared to the six crore population in Germany.

“This [elections in India] is a humongous task. My home State, West Bengal, is more populated than Germany. You have to repose some trust in somebody. Of course they [Election Commission] are accountable... Some dotting of the ‘i’ and ticking of the ‘t’ can happen, but do not try to bring down the system,” Justice Datta told the petitioners.

Mr. Sankaranarayanan said he was not concerned with population, but with a “very high chance of errors” in the EVMs.

Justice Khanna said candidates could exercise their right if they found a discrepancy between the total votes cast and votes counted.

“If we are to look into whether EVMs are functioning well, we have to go by data. We need data on the number of votes polled and the number counted. Any discrepancies in the past. How much discrepancy was there. On how many instances candidates requested counting… They (Election Commission) can provide the data,” Justice Khanna said.

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