Machines for mischief?

THE INTRODUCTION of Electronic Voting Machines in all 182 constituencies of Gujarat for the Assembly elections has raised a doubt: will the poll results reflect the true wishes of the people?

While the EVMs' introduction is expected to reduce the chances of bogus voting and booth-capturing and expedite the declaration of results, it is not sure whether the voters, particularly in the rural areas, will be able to make proper use of the machines.

Not that the rural voters are ignorant, but doubts have been raised because of the "mischief'' being indulged in by activists of the two main political parties, the BJP and the Congress, to mislead the voters.

Depending on the numbers the candidates in each constituency had been allotted in the ballot papers, the workers of the BJP and the Congress are said to be going around "explaining" the use of the machines to the voters. For example, activists of one party would tell the voters that pressing the number of their rival candidate on the EVM would give them (voters) an "electric shock".

At many places, activists of one party have asked voters to press the button against the number of their own party candidate to "start" the machine after which the voters could press "any other button of their choice".

If a voter follows this "advice", it will mean that even if he or she intends casting the vote in favour of the Congress, it will go to the BJP, or vice-versa. Every time a button is pressed the EVM is locked and the next vote can be cast only after the Returning Officer releases the lock.

"Educating" the rural voters about the "mischief" of the rival party workers has become an additional task for party leaders at election meetings.

At the meeting addressed by Sonia Gandhi at Hadad in the remote tribal belt, the State Congress president, Shankarsinh Waghela, took pains to caution his party supporters against any pranks the BJP workers might play on them.

Similar accusations have also been levelled against the Congress by BJP workers who claim that in the constituencies where the Congress candidate is listed as number one, party activists were asking the voters to press that number to "start" the machine.

The Election Commission has organised meetings at various places, particularly in the rural areas, to educate the voters on the use of EVMs.

But it may not be possible for the authorities to reach every voter.

The officials are aware about such mischief-mongers but believe that the errors will not be to such a large extent so as to change the poll outcome.


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