Saturday, May 8, 2021

Faulty EVMs

The high incidence of technical problems and glitches faced in the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines in the by-elections conducted earlier in different parts of the country should be a major cause of concern for the Election Commission of India (ECI). There were few takers for the alibi given by the ECI that extreme heat wave was responsible for the glitches during the polling process. Somehow, most of the opposition political parties have urged the ECI to review the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the future polling process. Most of the parties, whether they have registered a victory in the by-elections or not, have opposed the use of EVMs in future polling process in view of the allegations that they can be easily hacked or tampered by the ruling alliance led by BJP at the centre. At least Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Shiv Sena (Thackrey) and their allies have gone to the extent of asking other political groups to announce their boycott of EVMs. There have been feeble voices of opposition to EVMs from the Congress for the reason best known to them. Majority of them have called for reverting back to the paper ballot system for ensuring free and fair elections and have the belief that the previous system cannot be tampered with unless whole booth capturing takes place in some pockets during the election process. After major glitches came to the surface, fresh polling had to be ordered in dozens of booths in Kairana and Bhandara-Gondiya in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, respectively, as a consequence. Ever since the implementation of the VVPAT system last year, machine malfunction and subsequent delays in polling have been recurring issues. Close to 4.2% of the VVPAT machines deployed in the Karnataka assembly elections in May developed glitches during the testing as well as polling processes. The overall fault rate was as high as 11.6% in the by-elections held in four parliamentary and nine assembly constituencies on May 28. ECI also blamed the inexperience of polling officers handling them, compared to the ballot and control units for the EVMs that have been in use for much longer. The technical committee of the ECI is now faced with a challenge to ensure that the VVPAT machines hold up, with the general elections due next year in the hot summer months. Inadvertently, the use of these EVMs, which are adjuncts to the ballot and control units of the EVMs, has added to the complexity of an otherwise simple, single programmable-chip based system, and rendered it prone to more glitches. There is some evidence to show that EVMs have eased polling and helped increase voter turnout since being put to use. But in using VVPAT machines to reassure sceptics about an election’s integrity, the ECI has introduced a new element, and cost, to the process. Considering these challenges, the ECI should consider deploying the VVPAT machines in all polling booths. If this is not possible before the next general elections, the ECI should hold an all party meeting for review of use of EVMs. The current verification process should involve taking some polling stations and booths for tallying the VVPAT slips to restore the confidence of the voters. If the argument of the political parties that such machines are not being used all over the world except three countries including India, then the ECI has to take another call by involving all the parties. Unfortunately, the suspicion of the voters has increased during the election processes that have taken place during the past four years after the BJP-led alliance came to power. Most of the parties also raised their doubts about the reliability of the machines, which were partly used in the local bodies polling in Uttar Pradesh last year. In the polling for local bodies and Panchayats, where ballot papers were used, the ruling BJP lost and wherever machines were deployed, the BJP candidates won. This was a major bone of contention between the ruling party at the centre and the opposition parties. An early review and all party meeting would go in interest of restoration of confidence of the voter in the democratic process.