Back to Ballot Paper

Even as Opposition parties    explore the feasibility of front formation, a parallel exercise is on to join hands on issue which many consider to be far more urgent and critical to the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In focus is the electronic voting mechanism. Many Opposition parties have serious doubts about the reliability of EVMs. Efforts are on to renew the demand for a return to the old paper ballot system of voting for the next election.

A day after the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-election results were announced, victorious Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav told newsmen : "We won. But the old ballot paper system was much better. lt enabled people to vote with much more passion and to express their anger through the ballot box".

He then added : "The victory margins of our candidates would have been much higher with paper ballots. Most voters in rural areas needed help to cast their votes on EVM machines. In some booths the machines malfunctioned. In several EVM machines, votes had already been cast even before polling began. A lot of time was wasted in many polling booths to sort out the glitches".

At the recently held plenary session of the Congress Party, the draft political resolution echoed Akhilesh Yadav's view—there should be a return to paper ballots.

The resolution said : "There are apprehensions among the political parties and the people over the misuse of EVMs to manipulate the outcome which is often contrary to the popular verdict".

The official Congress line was made clear—The Election Commission must revert to paper balloting for the 2019 general election. This alone would restore credibility to the election process.

Several other parties, including the CPI(M) and Aam Admi Party, have from time to time also raised serious doubts about vulnerability of EVMs.

Exactly one year ago Bahujan leader Mayawati had expressed serious doubts about the reliability of EVM machines. Reacting to the results of the UP assembly elections, in which her party's tally came down from 80 to just 19 seats out of 403, she alleged : "BJP has got this victory through tampering of the EVMs. This smacks of dishonesty, fraud and murder of democracy".

She asserted that her party workers and supporters had told her that they voted for BSP, "but the votes went to 'kamal'... they are wondering as to how this could have happened". Mayawati lodged a complaint before the Election Commission and demanded a probe.

The demand was rejected the very next day. Thu Commission cited earlier judgments by the High Courts of Madras, Kerala, Karnataka and Mumbai, wherein the use of EVMs was upheld.

The Election Commission has repeatedly asserted that EVMs are tamper-proof. The official stand is—"EVM hardware and software cannot be altered in any way. Measures have been taken to ensure that voting machines are both mechanically and electronically protected to prevent any tampering or manipulation whatsoever".

On the road to the Lok Sabha polls, Opposition parties are exploring the possibility of launching another campaign to persuade the Election Commission to rethink its rigid stand and to consider bringing back paper ballots at least in sensitive Constituencies in key States in order to ensure that there is a public perception that elections were held in a free and fair manner.

In his testimony before the US House of Congress, the scientist, J Alex Halderman had made several pertinent points. His opinion in part is—a) The key lesson from 2016 presidential elections is that these threats are real, b) Major changes need to be incorporated in electronic voting machines- including upgradation to optical character recognition to recognise votes made or paper ballots, and hardening of voting systems against sabotage by applying cyber security best practices.

Detailed technical evidences behind Halderman's assessment that "threat of hacking is real" are being analysed. A wealth of other material is also being examined and compiled. By the look of it, the EVM saga in India is by no means over.

A lot depends on whether all parties across the non-NDA spectrum join the clamour for a freeze on EVMs, even if temporarily, for the 2019 polls. That alone would compel Nirvachan Sadan to pay heed to the demand for a fair election free of the clouds of doubts and suspicions.

Vol. 50, No.39, Apr 1 - 7, 2018