Is there a case for a relook at EVMs?

Earlier we were told — and it is probably still the case — that electronic voting machines (EVMs) were designed without any software in them, so that to tamper with them you had to replace the chip. We know that today it is possible to replace the chip if we have access to EVMs. And in a situation where the machines are kept in places where they are difficult to access, it may not be possible to tamper with all of them but it is possible to tamper with some of them by replacing the chip.

Following election results, we invariably come across reports of malfunctioning EVMs. On the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) front too, there are reports of malfunctioning. Also, as per the rules, paper ballots and VVPAT machines are not counted until the Returning Officer asks for it. So, that is not a satisfactory solution either.

World over, countries are moving to paper ballots. Just as they are giving up on nuclear energy world over, countries realise that EVMs are problematic too, because they carry the risk of being tampered with. I feel the time has come for us to go back to the paper ballot.

The case of U.P.

The outcome of the recent Uttar Pradesh civic polls suggests that tampering could be happening. I am not saying there is conclusive proof of EVM tampering, but the results do raise questions and doubts about a decisive victory. I had tweeted that the Bharatiya Janata Party had won more in places where there were EVMs and lost more in places where paper ballots were used. The fear is enough for us to move to paper ballots. There are fears especially in the context of majoritarian governments, and especially with regard to this government which has subverted all the major institutions. Look at the manner in which the dates were announced for the Gujarat Assembly elections. This has created too many apprehensions in the minds of the people and of the Opposition. In order to restore public confidence, we need to go back to paper ballots.

EVMs have been in place for two decades and it is time to acknowledge that they have failed. Some European countries have acknowledged that EVMs have failed. Countries there started with EVMs and are now going back to the paper ballot.

Problems of paper ballot

Having said that, I do acknowledge that paper ballots are cumbersome. Transporting them and guarding them is a problem. And ballot boxes can be captured. In the past, we know how this was done. But when I see what is in store for us now, I find that the scope of EVM manipulation and what can be achieved through this is on a much larger scale compared to booth capturing. If EVMs are manipulated, all the votes could be captured with a greater degree of sophistication to favour one party. Tampering with EVMs would make booth capturing much easier. Besides, time and again the Election Commission (EC) has said that the machines cannot be hacked into as they are designed in such a manner so as to make that impossible. I quite agree with the EC when it says this.

But let us not be blind to a scenario where, if officials are complicit, and if the guards guarding the EVM machines are complicit, it is quite possible to replace the chips to get the desired verdict.

As told to Anuradha Raman