Poll with EVMs alone

The Opposition parties now want to abandon electronic voting machines for exclusive paper balloting. They claim EVMs are manipulated and unreliable. By implication, they question the impartiality and fairness of the Election Commission of India. Most strident in this regard are the Congress Party and the Aam Aadmi Party. Others are muted, though they have not openly endorsed faith in the ECI. Losers invariably blame for defeat. When the Aam Aadmi Party virtually swept the board in Delhi in its maiden poll to the Delhi Assembly, winning 67 of the 70 seats, it did not find fault with the EVMs. Remarkably, neither the Congress, which did not win a single seat, nor the BJP under Prime Minister Modi who was at the peak of his popularity then, and which won but only three seats, blame the EVMs.

However, the same AAP was the loudest when it failed to win in the Punjab Assembly poll, blaming the EVMs for its less than expected tally. The anti-EVM noises gathered momentum when the BJP won a two-thirds majority in UP Assembly. This is regardless of the fact that to make these machines doubly foolproof, a simultaneous paper trail in each EVM is being introduced from the coming Assembly polls later this year and the Lok Sabha election next year. If anyone has any doubt, the accompanying paper trail can verify the result through a physical count of the paper slips. This will entail a great deal of expense on modifying the existing EVMs and on the provision of paper rolls. But no expense is big for reposing faith in our electoral system and ensuring that all the concerned players have trust in the fairness and independence of the umpire, that the is the ECI. Besides, the demand to go back in time and re-introduce the obsolete technology for polling does not take into account the widespread malpractices which had invariably marred the earlier general and assembly elections. It was common, especially in the rural areas and deep in the hinterlands in Bihar, UP, Madhya Pradesh, etc. to capture booths, to stuff the ballot boxes with papers of candidates who could muster money and muscle power, and/or to exploit the rampant illiteracy of the voters to cast votes for the polling agent’s favourite candidate, etc.

The introduction of EVMs at one go helped eliminate these abuses. Indeed, in the first few decades after independence, candidates flush with money would insist that voters bring back the ballot papers received from the booth returning officer in exchange for money in order to ensure that the money was well spent. Later, a trusted worker would go to vote and carry with him all the ballot papers so purchased from individual voters. The point is that physical balloting was not only corrupt but facilitated corruption. On the other hand, the EVMs are more or less foolproof. They cannot be manipulated, they are not connected with fixed line or wi-fi internet, each EVM being a standalone autonomous unit by itself. It is not physically possible for a party or a candidate to programme these machines in advance since they remain under high security round the clock. Moreover, it is not possible to know the list of candidates in advance to tinker with tens of thousands of machines in each Assembly and/or Lok Sabha constituency, especially when the listing of candidates on the EVMs is done strictly in the alphabetical order at end of the process of withdrawal of candidates and scrutiny of their papers.

In short, those who seek to reject technology and want to revert to the bullock-cart age are ostriches, unwilling to recognise their own lack of appeal with the voters and, instead, blame the EVMs for failure. Taxpayers should be spared the huge costs of their paranoia and insecurities. Yes, the ECI should further fine-tune the EVMs, make the system as transparent as possible but it must outright reject the demand for going back to the physical ballot papers of yore. Desist from moving back the wheel of time from the 21st century to the early 20th century. Western democracies are envious of our EVM system of polling. And, here, we have Luddites who want to go back to the ancient system of head-count. We can only pity their intelligence.

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