Allegations about unreliability of EVM

Harihar Swarup

Sometime in late 1960s, after a massive victory of the Congress in an election led by Indira Gandhi, the then Jana Sangh made allegation that elections were rigged. The Party President Balraj Madhok alleged that a special ink was brought from the then Soviet Union which could be easily erased after a voter casts his vote. He can, therefore, easily vote again. The allegation spread like wild fire and, it appeared, it was true. But when investigations were made, the allegation proved to be wrong, no erasable ink was brought from Soviet Union.
Alleging vote fraud through tampering the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) is a time-honoured tradition by losing candidates and parties. It is now followed by Congress and other opposition parties now that the BJP has won in Lok Sabha elections and just achieved big victory in Uttar Pradesh assembly poll. 
This tradition began right from the very first instance of the use of EVM when Election Commission tried out a pilot project during Kerala Assembly elections in 1982. In fact, CPI candidate Sivan Pillai challenged the use of EVMs even before the election could be held, but Kerala High Court did not entertain him. However, the fun was that, despite his apprehension, Pillai ended up winning.
Thereupon it was the turn of losing Congress party to challenge the use of EVMs and Pillai’s victory, setting in motion a practice that has since become a common one for any self-respecting loser of an election. However, not all losing candidates go to court against EVM.
While Congress was complaining of defective EVM in UP elections enabling the BJP to get a massive majority and along with other opposition parties met President Pranab Mukherjee, two Congress leaders voiced a discordant note. The former Law Minister Veerappa Moiley disagreed that EVMs were tampered.
As a united opposition met the President, Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh made a significant observation. “If AVMs were fixed then I wouldn’t be sitting here. The Akalis would be”. Congress swept the Punjab polls by ousting the Akali Dal and its ally the BJP.
The remark reflected the differences within the Congress over the stand on manipulation of EVMs, an issue that opposition has made the thrust of its attack on BJP after the saffron party’s massive victory in UP and Uttarakhand.
Unfazed by differing voices, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said Congress and opposition are united in their belief that EVMs were being manipulated and they had concrete evidence from polls in Maharashtra and UP. Moiley even questioned the wisdom of Congress in meeting Election Commissioner to demand that in future voting be done again on ballot papers. He also said that complaints about EVM were made during the UPA regime but it was found that the machines couldn’t be manipulated.
The incorporation of machines, technology and automation for electronic voting goes back to at least 1892 when the first “lever voting machine” was used in New York, after decades of relying on paper ballots. Punch-card voting machines were introduced in the US in 1960s, and they are still in use in Florida four decades later, when their functioning helped make the 2000 presidential election controversial. The US also saw the first EVMs introduced in 1975.
Recall electoral experience in India prior to introduction of EVMs. Violence was common as parties used muscle power to seize booths and engage in ballot box stuffing. Furthermore, the tight contest results were vitiated as ballots that were ambiguously stamped would be declared invalid. These problems were overcome with the introduction of EVMs and the level of violence associated with elections has substantially declined. Among other advantages was an increase in speed with which process can be completed. Overall levels of crime too may have declined, as parties no longer need to nurture armies of goons to influence the political process.
While the advent of EVMs doubtless represents a change for better, there is justification for the demand that electronic votes leave a paper trail that is easier to audit should the vote be challenged later. In this context it is welcome that the Supreme Court has asked government to respond early next month in a case where litigants want compliance with the apex court’s 2013 directive to introduce paper trail in EVMs. Voters Verified Paper Trail (VVPAT) is a system where a voter has the comfort of additional feedback. This will hopefully put an end to the unfortunate tendency of losers blaming ballot box.
The Election Commission is undoubtedly one of India’s most effective institutions and deserves credit for conducting elections smoothly. (IPA)

Monday, 17 April, 2017