O.P. Rawat Interview

Now there is a strong constituency for EVMs: CEC O.P. Rawat

New Delhi: **FILE** File photo of Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat who has been appointed as the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). PTI Photo (PTI1_21_2018_000204B)

New Delhi: **FILE** File photo of Election Commissioner Om Prakash Rawat who has been appointed as the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). PTI Photo (PTI1_21_2018_000204B)   | Photo Credit: PTI

When the EVM controversy erupted last year, Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat, then an Election Commissioner, had to cut short his foreign trip. However, a comprehensive demonstration of EVM functionality, for each of its components, has now boosted confidence that the machine is tamper-proof. Edited excerpts:

Opposition parties have raised serious doubts about the integrity of the EVMs in recent polls. What steps are the Election Commission taking to allay these concerns?

[A 2017 all-party meeting suggested that they] wanted that either we [go] back to [the] ballot, or have voter-verifiable [paper] audit trail machines (VVPATs) in further elections. The Commission immediately announced that now onwards, we will have 100% deployment of VVPATs in all elections and even bypolls. Going a step further, we made it mandatory for matching vote counts at one randomly selected polling station in each Assembly segment with VVPAT slips to prove that whatever vote count is displayed in EVMs is also in the record of votes in VVPATs.

In Goa, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat and recent byelections in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, we recorded 100% VVPAT matches… The information gap on EVMs is narrowing due to the demonstrations organised by the Commission in all the poll-going States. They are held from villages to villages… and before all the other opinion-makers, including political parties and the judiciary. It has created a strong constituency for the machine.

Many EVM-malfunction cases were reported in the recently concluded elections. What is the SoP followed once malfunctioning is detected?

These machines travel from north to south and east to west in poll-bound States, [given that] we have a fixed number of machines. Road conditions in our country are now improving, but when they go to polling stations like those in Nagaland, road conditions are just not there. It takes four hours from Dimapur to Kohima… When these machines are transported in trucks on such roads, they create some problems with the electronics of the machine.

The second aspect is training. For polling officials, it is a very temporary kind of assignment. At training sessions, I have found that at a crucial moment when something very specific is being [said] about the machines, they get distracted by WhatsApp messages. At the time of connecting the machines, they tend to forget the sequence and so, the machines go out of order… As per the SoP, training batches [must] be very small and everyone should have an opportunity for hands-on experience of EVM functioning. We have generally three phases of training ahead of elections.

Just before the polling day, an engineer from the manufacturer concerned also checks if the officials can handle the machines confidently.

Are the malfunctioning units examined by a technical team to study the causes and bring about changes?

This is the area we are focussing on now. Generally, whenever failures are noticed, the machines are replaced and the defective ones are sent to the factory concerned where they are analysed, diagnosed and repaired. That data was not available to us. But, now we are asking them to tabulate, compile and tell us about the errors and the reasons.

Are there plans for a further upgrade of the design and configuration of the EVMs and the VVPATS to limit cases of malfunction?

It is a continuous process. We started with M1 (first version) machines, went on to M2 machines and now we are at a stage where M3 machines will soon get manufactured. Any day, they will start coming out of the factory and we may deploy, maybe in a very small number in the Karnataka elections, but in large numbers in the coming Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and Mizoram elections.

The Election Commission has decided to cross-check vote counts of one randomly selected polling station in each Assembly segment with VVPAT slips. Do you plan to include more polling stations for this in the Karnataka elections?

Whenever any new thing comes up, we start on a very small pilot and after enough experience, we go for bigger pilots and following an analysis, when we gain confidence that now it can be implemented in a large scale, we go for it. Right now, we are in the mid-level pilot phase. In Karnataka, there is hardly any time to upscale the implementation as the data from recently held elections are yet to be analysed.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 4:06:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/now-there-is-a-strong-constituency-for-evms-cec-op-rawat/article23035963.ece

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