OPINION

Trust the EVMs

Machine-manipulation charges levelled by some political parties have no real basis

The legitimacy of the election process is a key component of any democracy. When Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati and Aam Aadmi Party convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal alleged that the manipulation of electronic voting machines helped the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh and the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine in Punjab, they were casting doubts about the legitimacy of the results. While the BSP, through its leader’s statements and submissions to the Election Commission, was vague in its complaints, the AAP leader was more specific, suggesting that 20-25% of his party’s votes were “transferred” to the Akali Dal due to the EVMs. Complaints about the security of EVMs have been raised over a decade in courts, and the EC has repeatedly demonstrated how the security of the machines cannot be compromised. Indian EVMs, unlike online voting machines that were discontinued in some western countries, are stand- alone, independent electronic units. They record and lock votes only after being trigger-enabled by presiding officers through a control unit. The EC has sought to assure sceptics that the security of the machine is enabled through both technological and procedural means. The wiring-in of software in a one-time programmable chip disallows external manipulation, time stamping of every key pressed allows for monitoring, production testing is done for quality control, and so on. Checks of EVMs along with representatives of political parties, randomised allocation and sealing make the machines tamper-proof before and after votes are cast.

The EC has also sought to increase the use of a voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) that helps in corroborating the results from the machine, and expects its full implementation by the 2019 Lok Sabha election. The data tallied from VVPAT-enabled EVMs in U.P. in around 20 constituencies in the recent Assembly election corroborated the election results. Prima facie , there is nothing to suggest that EVMs have been subject to manipulation. In fact, the use of EVMs has enhanced electoral democracy in tangible ways. Before electronic voting became universal in State and parliamentary elections in 2004, paper ballot-based polling had seen a high incidence of inadvertent invalid voting. A statistical study published in The Hindu last year showed that in about 14% of the 35,937 Assembly seats where elections were held between 1961 and 2003, invalid votes were greater than the margin between the winner and the runner-up. In more than 300 constituencies, invalid votes were as high as the votes polled for an effective candidate. The use of EVMs has cancelled out the effect of invalid votes, making the process robust besides keeping it simple and effective. EVMs are here to stay and there is no need to be distracted by politicians who criticise them to explain away their defeat.

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