The Election Commission’s (EC) scheduled demonstration for political parties of a prototype remote Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) could not take place on Monday after the Opposition raised objections on the need for remote voting, the definition of migrant voters and the logistics of the remote voting exercise.
The parties also voiced concerns over larger electoral issues like “level playing field for all”, electoral bonds, proportional representation and “lack of trust” in the EVM process.
At a meeting called by the EC here to demonstrate the remote EVM, which the commission said could have enabled migrant voters exercise their franchise at their place of work, the Opposition parties questioned the need for the remote EVMs and instead asked the EC to address urban apathy towards the electoral process.
Sources said due to the lack of any consensus in Monday’s meeting, the last date for submission of the written comments by political parties has also been postponed to February 28 from January 31. They said that Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar listened to all the views expressed and said the EC would not proceed till there was a consensus and more discussions were held.
On December 29, the Election Commission had announced that it has developed a prototype for a Multi-Constituency Remote Electronic Voting Machine which would enable remote voting by migrant voters and had asked the political parties to submit their written comments by January 31.
“No Opposition party wants to see the demonstration of a remote voting machine [RVM]. First the issue of the need to have such a machine should be settled,” senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, who represented his party said after Monday’s meeting.
Mr. Singh said that he felt there would be no RVM demonstration till there is a consensus on having one. “No political party is prepared to see the demonstration. The idea of RVM is not acceptable”.
In the meeting the Congress party raised concerns on the process of identification and registration of remote voters in a constituency and the voting procedure like deciding polling centres for remote voters.
The party also raised questions on the polling logistics and counting process. It sought clarifications on how candidates and their polling agents will monitor remote voting from their constituencies and how will remote-voting VVPAT slips and EVMs be brought and stored until counting.
The Congress party, which was also represented by senior leader Praveen Chakravarty, said the commission should address concerns about EVMs raised by eminent citizens of the country. It said that only 60% of voters trust EVMs and and 10% of voters do not vote because of lack of trust in EVMs. “The onus is on the EC to bridge the trust deficit by improving the EVM process,” he said.
Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary D. Raja said he asked the EC to address the issue of lack of level playing field for political parties and corporate funding of elections.
According to Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Manoj K. Jha, almost all parties raised concerns over the need for the remote voting exercise and also expressed doubts about the number of migrant voters (30 crore) shared by the Commission.
EC sources said that the meeting was attended by representatives of eight national and 40 State parties.
Among the parties which attended the meeting were BJP, Congress, RJD, Shiv Sena, CPI, CPI (Marxist), National Conference, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Peoples Democratic Party, Trinamool Congress, Revolutionary Socialist Party, Indian Union Muslim League and Biju Janata Dal.
On Sunday, leaders of 16 Opposition parties decided to oppose the EC’s proposal on RVMs in a meeting facilitated by the Congress.
The commission has said that the RVMs, developed by public sector undertaking Electronics Corporation of India, will be a stand-alone device not connected to the Internet in any way. Each machine can handle up to 72 constituencies, allowing migrant voters to cast their votes from a remote polling booth.