EC must win our trust

While EVMs are convenient, there are too many reports of tampering. A workable solution is needed in future

Granted there is a general air of mistrust over the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) ever since it was introduced, and depending on whichever party has had the unexpectedly winnable verdict,  its opponents have cried foul and lodged allegations of tampering. But in one of the world’s biggest democracies, there has to be mass confidence in the integrity of EVMs so that voters can trust the outcome of elections. Although the Election Commission (EC) has been stoutly claiming their tamper-proof nature, all political parties, including the BJP and Congress, have at various points in time expressed reservations and in the current election season, there have been genuine concerns about their safety being compromised during transit, storage and handling. Although there is an insurance in the form of voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPATs), the fact is its cumbersome logistics isn’t a practical model of resolution. At best, the intent behind it is entirely perfunctory. This is one of the reasons why the EC has rejected the 100 per cent cross-checks of VVPATs as a workable option. But then with so many complaints and anxieties piling up, the EC cannot appear to be so intransigent about concerns and seem to be at war with voters. It must remember that it is not a comment on the adequacy of its security protocol, expert certification and administrative safeguards but about prevention of the hazardous misuse of technology that is the real devil. So as parties across India guard strongrooms and monitor the journey of EVMs to counting centres, the EC cannot discount the shadow of reasonable doubt.

The scientific fact is since EVMs aren’t connected to the internet, mass manipulation is impossible because the software is “burnt” into the CPU. Of course thefts, faulty chips and breakdowns are possible. And all of it can be a result of human intervention. Many experts have claimed how a dishonest insider can get physical access to EVMs, tweak the control unit that can be programmed to count votes in a certain pattern wirelessly though that charge is a bit of an elephant passing through a hole. A simpler way would be to have an insider cast residual area votes. Fraud can also happen during the long non-election period in far-flung areas, where the EVMs are stored in basic facilities and at the stage of ‘first level checks’ before the machines are serviced by authorised technicians from manufacturers. It is in these outlier segments and districts, where swinging the vote stretched across narrow margins would require manipulating a minuscule number, that results could be altered. And in the Indian context, EVMs, though definitely convenient than paper ballots, cannot combat what is encoded in our DNA — human intent and ingenuity. The West is not immune to EVM malpractices either. Which is why Germany and the Netherlands, which used the machine type that is being used by us, re-introduced paper ballots. Of course, they are far less populated than India, which can consider machine-readable paper ballots going forward to cut down delays. Here, the primary ballots are in paper and the secondary ballots in electronic form unlike the current model. Agreed, technology is not our enemy but had it been perfect, original inventions would not have undergone innovations to be relevant to current time and practices. Like it or not, the onus of restoring the credibility of the democratic exercise is upon the EC and the next five years give it ample time to relook at flaws seriously than dismiss complaints as perennially motivated. It owes it to us.