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EVM and VVPAT- An Analysis

Context

Recently, there have been instances of VVPAT glitches in by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Background

The conventional ballot paper voting in India was subjected to various issues: high expenditure, large number of invalid votes and prevalence of booth capturing and use of muscle power to manipulate and disrupt election process. To overcome these problems the EC mooted the introduction of electronic voting machines.

  1. 1977: Election Commission proposed the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs)
  2. 1988: Representation of People’s Act, 1951 amended- New section 61A introduced empowering Commission to use voting machine
  3. 1990– Electoral Reforms Committee appointed. Constituted a technical Expert Committee for the evaluation of EVMs
  4. 2000- EVMs put to use
  5. 2013: SC directs to use VVPAT
  6. 2017: VVPAT used in Goa and Gujarat assembly Elections; proposed to be used in 2019 General elections

Why the recent Demand for paper ballot?

  • In the recent past, political parties have alleged that verdicts in state assembly elections which went against them were because the EVMs had been tampered with.
  • Recently, some opposition parties have demanded that Election Commission should return back to the use of paper ballots in elections. The demand for paper ballot arises out of the issues and allegations against EVMs.

Issues and Allegations against EVMs:

  • Alleged tamperiability
  • Alleged hacking
  • EVMs only stores vote. Verification of vote is not possible
  • Technical issues
  • Leads to favouritism: A candidate can know how many people from a polling station voted for him. This may lead to favouritism.

International Experience:

  1. 2006: Netherlands banned the EVMs on the grounds of lack of transparency and security.
  2. 2009: Ireland banned use of EVMs
  3. 2009: the Supreme Court of Germany ruled that voting through EVMs was unconstitutional primarily on the grounds of transparency. It held that transparency is a constitutional right but efficiency is not a constitutionally protected value.

Arguments against:

  • The official stand of EC is that EVMs are 100% reliable and tamperproof
  • EVMs are standalone machines and are not networked either by wire or by wireless to any other machine or system. Therefore, they cannot be manipulated by signals from any sources. Example mobile phones
  • The software in the EVM is burnt into a one-time programmable chip. It can never be tampered with.
  • The source code of the software is not handed over to any outsider.
  • Stringent operating procedures: 3 Level processes-
  1. Level 1: party representatives are invited before the machines are allotted to various constituencies from storage points. Random 5% of machines selected in which up to 1,000 votes will be polled to demonstrate the reliability. After that a computer programme randomly allocated machines to constituencies.
  2. Level 2: Computer programme allocates machines randomly to polling stations from the constituencies. Candidates are allowed to test the machines at random
  3. Level 3: On the day of election, each presiding officer conducts a mock poll to demonstrate the “correctness” the machine in recording votes.
  • ECI also cited various High Court judgements were it was held that EVMs are credible, reliable and tamper-proof. Example: Madras high Court, 2001, Kerala High Court, 2002, Delhi High Court, 2004
  • Gopalaswami, former chief Election Commissioner observes that the international examples of pulling out of EVM use are cited without proper knowledge. For example: In Netherlands, EVMs were PC-type of machine running on OS. However, Indian EVMs are not networked machines.

Other advantages of EVMs include:

  1. Cost effective-
  • Eliminates need for production and printing of ballot papers
  • A substantial reduction in expenses happens when it comes to transportation, storage, and recruiting counting staff.
  1. Environment friendly- No use of papers; ‘Greener’ and can be used repeatedly
  2. Time effective- Reduction in time taken in election procedures
  3. Results can be stored in machine memory; later deleted manually
  4. Reduction in invalid votes
  5. Prevent booth capturing
Disadvantages of paper ballots:

1. Cumbersome process

2. Expensive: Economic and Environmental cost

3. Prone to capturing, rigging

4. Storage concern

5. invalid votes

What is VVPAT?

  • The VVPAT, or Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail, is an EVM-connected verification printer device.
  • It allows voters to verify if their vote has been cast correctly by leaving a paper trail of the vote cast.

Demand for VVPAT and SC Judgement:

  • Time and again various political parties have complained about probable tampering of EVMs. The demand for VVPATs began in 2010.
  • In 2012, Subramanian Swamy had moved to SC to incorporate the system of paper trail in EVMs. He had alleged that the EVMS were hacking.
  • In 2013, the SC directed the Election Commission to introduce VVPAT in EVMS in a phased manner for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and asked the Centre to provide funds for procurement.
  • The SC upheld that VVPATs were indispensable for conducting fair and transparent elections
  • VVPATs were approved by the EC in 2013; used in the Nagaland by-election the same year.
  • Goa and Gujarat were the first and second states respectively to use EVMs with VVPAT machines their 2017 Assembly Elections.
  • The EC seeks to conduct the 2019 general elections using VVPAT connected EVMs. The Centre has already sanctioned funds for procuring VVPAT machines

Benefits of VVPAT:

  1. Enables to verify vote: Instant feedback to voter that vote polled has been allocated to the intended candidate
  2. Enables authorities to count the votes manually if there is a dispute in the electronically polled votes
  3. Operates under a Direct Recording Election system (DRE) which detects fraud and existent malfunctions
  4. Will ensure greater transparency in voting process
  5. Gives both the voters and political parties an assurance

Issues:

  1. Technological glitches; malfunctioning due to extreme weather conditions and sensitivity to light
  2. Other malfunctions: paper jamming, running of ink, running out of battery
  3. Made procedure complex which was otherwise simple- EVM being a single-programmable chip based system
  4. Added cost to the election process
  5. Storage concerns

Way Forward

  1. It is important for Election Commission to regain trust and confidence of all stakeholders in the election system in India
  2. Introduction of VVPAT is an appreciated move. However, lacunae in VVPAT technology should be immediately addressed. Measures include: making it independent of battery, include the usage of sustainable inks and reducing sensitivity to heat and light.
  3. Employment and proper training of workforce to manage errors and technological snags
  4. The EC announced that it will count V-VPAT slips up to a definite percentage. A proper statistical method should be deployed for while deciding on the required proportion of tallying V-VPAT with EVMs. At present it only involves randomly choosing booths.
  5. Invest more to upgrade technology
  6. Rather than moving to paper ballot system of election, the focus should be on improving the efficiency, credibility and transparency of the EVM-VVPAT enabled electoral process.
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