FUSS OVER USE OF ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES CONTINUES

Whether we use electronic voting machines or go back to the good old paper ballot system, the mandate should be that of the public, dismissing the outcries of different political parties on different self-centric agendas. The reactions of the opposition political spectrum to the result of the Uttar Pradesh election have been bizarre. Visibly stung by the magnitude of people’s mandate and left with no major front on which to launch an offensive on the winning party, they finally have shifted the blame on the functioning of electronic voting machines (EVM), adding that these were manipulated.

On this issue the Opposition approached both the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Supreme Court. Counterintuitively, they also went in a delegation to the President demanding a rollback to paper ballots. Ironically, the Grand Old Party (GOP) of India, which governed the country for several decades and is credited to have introduced the EVM in 1982 and matured it to complete adoption in a large and complex country like India, which is by no stretch of imagination an easy task, has been playing a lead role in these protests. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), many would argue, behaved in a very irresponsible manner by accusing the ECI having acted in favour of BJP. Despite the ECI’s re-assurance that the EVMs could not be tampered with or hacked, these parties are not relenting. In a recent interview, Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, said if the EVM issue was not sorted out, “our democracy won’t survive”. He has renewed his allegations against the EVM even in the just concluded Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) election, which gave a landslide win to the BJP and defeat to the AAP. It appears a sense of panic has gripped them to make them respond in such an absurd manner. In any case, the recent decision of the Modi Cabinet to provide EVMs with voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) by 2019 may bring a closure to this ongoing fiasco. However disgraceful be the ongoing event, it can be used by the country to review the present EVM-based voting system for further reforms.

Technically, there is one limitation of the EVM. It cannot on its own verify the identity of the voter. Therefore, its right use hinges on two factors – the integrity of the election official and adequacy of security arrangement. The first ensures that only genuine voters exercise franchise. The second establishes a physical environment where the voters exercise their ballot and officials observe their responsibilities without fear. The Assembly and parliamentary elections are conducted by the Central Election Commission (CEC), where both these conditions are generally satisfied. As a result, EVMs reflect the people’s mandate in a free and fair manner. However, the same thing cannot be said about elections for panchayats, municipalities, corporations and other local bodies conducted under the aegis of State Election Commission (SEC). On several occasions the ruling parties in States are suspected to be exercising unethical influence over both the election officials as well as police force, thereby undermining the effectiveness of the EVMs. There have been instances in West Bengal, where elections were marked by threat, intimidation and occasional bloodshed. Clearly, these are not shortcomings of the EVM but they do expose the vulnerability of the election process. If democracy has to take further root into the country, these are the real issues that need to be addressed instead of casting spurious allegations about tempering of EVMs. The wheels of technology need to be turned ahead towards the next round of reforms solving these process-vulnerabilities rather than attempting retrogression by teturing to paper ballots.

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