Elec­tronic Vot­ing Ma­chine: Ad­vance­ment or De­ba­cle?

Libertatem Magazine - - Contents - by Shreyan Acharya

The Great In­dian Elec­tions con­ducted un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of In­dia ap­par­ently mark the cel­e­bra­tion of a suc­cess­ful democ­racy. The tire­less ef­fort of the of­fi­cials in con­duct­ing the elec­tions in the world’s largest democ­racy is praise­wor­thy. ECI has trans­formed its method­ol­ogy since the first gen­eral elec­tions of 1952. Ear­lier the use of the ballot pa­per was wide­spread and votes were cast in the ballot box by im­print­ing the stamp on the can­di­date’s sym­bol pro­vided in the ballot pa­per. To en­sure the ef­fi­ca­cious work­ing of the elec­tion process, sev­eral se­cu­rity staff mem­bers were de­ployed in the poll booths to main­tain peace and en­sure safety. The ballot boxes were taken into the cus­tody of the of­fi­cials ap­pointed by the ECI and votes were cal­cu­lated ac­cord­ingly. How­ever, the con­ven­tional sys­tem of vot­ing had var­i­ous im­ped­i­ments to it. The ECI was tasked with tack­ling the is­sues of booth capturing, vote tam­per­ing, etc. The is­sue of booth capturing could be re­solved with the de­ploy­ment of ad­di­tional se­cu­rity forces and en­hanc­ing modes of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to en­sure bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion and by tak­ing ad­e­quate se­cu­rity mea­sures. How­ever, the is­sue of vote tam­per­ing was re­solved by in­duct­ing Elec­tronic Vot­ing Ma­chines that re­placed the tra­di­tional and out­moded ballot boxes. The move to in­tro­duce EVM proved the sound wis­dom and ef­fi­ciency of the mem­bers of the ECI to use tech­nol­ogy for gover­nance. In the wake of the on­go­ing tus­sle over EVMS, a dis­cus­sion on the util­ity of the vot­ing de­vice is due.

The Emer­gence of EVMS

The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of In­dia has been tasked with per­form­ing the most crit­i­cal func­tion that will en­sure the life of this democ­racy. The task is ma­jorly to con­duct elec­tions in In­dia. How­ever, there are deeper re­spon­si­bil­i­ties than just merely con­duct­ing the elec­tions. With the tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment, ECI in the early 80s had come across the chal­lenges to cope up with these changes. Tech­nol­ogy was seen as a pow­er­ful weapon to counter the il­licit prac­tices jeop­ar­dis­ing the sanc­tity of the com­mis­sion. In the year 1977, the then Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner S.L. Shakd­har re­quested M/s Elec­tron­ics Cor­po­ra­tion of In­dia Lim­ited to study the fea­si­bil­ity of the elec­tronic gad­get for con­duct­ing elec­tions. By the time the Bharat Elec­tron­ics Lim­ited in­tro­duced an elec­tronic de­vice that was used as a tool for vot­ing in the var­i­ous unions of the com­pany, the ECI tak­ing these de­vel­op­ments into con­sid­er­a­tion pro­posed a meet­ing that in­cluded the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of ECIL, BEL, Min­istry of Law and Jus­tice re­gard­ing the use of EVMS for con­duct­ing the elec­tions. The meet­ing con­cluded with an af­fir­ma­tive de­ci­sion and in 1982 Ker­ala be­came the first State where the EVMS were tested. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of a pol­icy can only be fruit­ful with the back­ing of the Leg­isla­tive author­ity. The Govern­ment failed to take steps in amend­ing the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Peo­ple Act, 1951, and Con­duct of Elec­tions Rules, 1961.How­ever, the ECI was de­ter­mined to use EVMS and fore­see­ing the ben­e­fits of its use, is­sued the di­rec­tives un­der Ar­ti­cle 324 of the Con­sti­tu­tion for the use of EVMS and con­ducted elec­tions in fifty polling sta­tions us­ing the ma­chines. The strong willed ECI demon­strated its un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment and de­ter­mi­na­tion in mak­ing the demo­cratic process a liv­ing re­al­ity. The tech­no­log­i­cal touch to this process fur­ther en­hanced its ef­fi­ciency. How­ever with­out a law, this self­less ef­fort was open to chal­lenge in the court of law. The Supreme Court of In­dia on an Elec­tion Pe­ti­tion filed by A.C. Jose (A. C. Jose vs Si­van Pil­lai & Ors 1984 AIR 921) held that “EVMS can­not be used in an elec­tion un­less a spe­cific pro­vi­sion is made in law pro­vid­ing for their use”. This judg­ment was a wake-up call for the par­lia­men­tar­i­ans that led to the in­clu­sion of Sec­tion 61A in the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Peo­ple Act, 1951, em­pow­er­ing the com­mis­sion to use vot­ing ma­chines. How­ever, the em­pow­er­ment did not re­move the ap­pre­hen­sions. In­dia had seen the dawn of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment which gave room to scep­ti­cism re­gard­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of these vot­ing ma­chines. The pri­mary rea­son be­hind this was In­dia’s lack of ex­per­tise in han­dling such de­vices. These doubts were re­moved with the re­port of the ex­pert com­mit­tee un­der the chair­man­ship of S. Sam­path formed af­ter the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Elec­toral Re­forms Com­mit­tee (Di­nesh Goswami Com­mit­tee). The ex­pert com­mit­tee held a se­ries of meet­ings with the of­fi­cials, man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­lated peo­ple and crit­i­cally ex­am­ined its cred­i­bil­ity by also con­duct­ing lab­o­ra­tory tests. Af­ter be­ing sat­is­fied with the re­sults, the com­mit­tee de­clared the use of these ma­chines as se­cure. By then, nec­es­sary changes were also made to the Con­duct of Elec­tion Rules, 1961, and all the by-elec­tions were held with the use of the EVMS. A ma­jor trans­for­ma­tion in the elec­toral sys­tem of this coun­try was wit­nessed in the gen­eral elec­tions of 2004 which were ex­clu­sively held by way of the EVMS, and saw the dawn of a ref­or­ma­tion in this elec­toral democ­racy.

Man­age­ment of EVMS & its Ben­e­fits

The Elec­tion Com­mis­sion of In­dia was aware of the tech­ni­cal glitches as­so­ci­ated with the in­tro­duc­tion of the vot­ing ma­chines.mere in­tro­duc­tion of tech­nol­ogy does not ful­fil the pur­pose, its sounds man­age­ment de­ter­mines its ac­tual util­ity. The cred­i­bil­ity of the ma­chines was doubted which was later clar­i­fied with the ex­pert rec­om­men­da­tions, but a

shadow of doubt still loomed as to how these ma­chines will be op­er­ated and how it can be safe­guarded from the mis­cre­ants. The ECI has very care­fully al­lot­ted the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The pro­duc­tion team is sep­a­rate from the soft­ware de­vel­op­ment team. The key re­spon­si­bil­ity of the soft­ware de­vel­op­ment team is to de­velop a soft­ware that is a one-time pro­gramme which can­not be al­tered or tam­pered with. This makes the sys­tem hugely cor­rup­tion free. The tech­ni­cal as­pects of the EVMS are reg­u­larly as­sessed and be­fore putting the ma­chines to use, these are care­fully ex­am­ined to avoid any mal­func­tions. The ECI also un­der­takes care­ful ad­min­is­tra­tive se­cu­rity mea­sures for the EVMS. In the words of the for­mer Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner S.Y. Qu­raishi

“af­ter the poll, the EVMS are sealed with pa­per seals and packed in plas­tic boxes, which are also sealed. These EVMS are taken straight to the strong room from the polling sta­tions. The strong room is closed and sealed in the pres­ence of the can­di­dates/ their agents and the Com­mis­sion’s ob­server. They are per­mit­ted to af­fix their own seals on the locks of the strong room and are al­lowed to guard it till the count­ing be­gins. They are pro­vided fa­cil­i­ties for this pur­pose. In ad­di­tion, an armed po­lice guard keeps round the clock vigil. Ar­range­ments are also made for video cov­er­age and CCTV cov­er­age of the strong room round the clock. The stor­age hall so sealed is opened in the pres­ence of the can­di­dates/ their agents and the Com­mis­sion’s ob­server on the day of count­ing”.

There is no doubt­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of the func­tion­ing of the Com­mis­sion. How­ever, the af­ter­math of the UP elec­tions com­pletely drew a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. The al­le­ga­tions of sev­eral par­ties af­ter their de­feat about the in­ef­fi­ciency of the EVMS clearly re­flected their des­per­a­tion for power and in­abil­ity to han­dle the de­feat. How­ever, even in the height of crit­i­cism and po­lit­i­cal gim­mick, the ECI did not turn a blind eye. The Com­mis­sion took cog­ni­sance of the mat­ter and called for the in­quiry to in­ves­ti­gate the va­lid­ity of these al­le­ga­tions. This ges­ture pro­vided a dif­fer­ent out­look in the course of the pol­li­ci­sa­tion of this is­sue. In the wake of this po­lit­i­cal bat­tle, sev­eral na­tional lead­ers have doubted the cred­i­bil­ity of the vot­ing ma­chines and the func­tion­ing of the Com­mis­sion. The ECI’S ini­tia­tive of in­sti­tut­ing the in­quiry can be seen as a bench­mark ex­am­ple of up­hold­ing the demo­cratic prin­ci­ples. How­ever, some lead­ers have used this is­sue as a po­lit­i­cal tool to fur­ther their party’s en­deav­ours. Some have de­manded to scrap the use of the vot­ing ma­chines in the up­com­ing elec­tions. We all vo­cif­er­ously raise our opin­ions against the pol­icy of ban­ning or re­mov­ing some­thing from the pub­lic junc­ture. The tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment in the elec­toral func­tion­ing is now fac­ing se­vere cri­sis of ex­is­tence. The scrap­ping of the EVMS would take In­dia back to the 20th cen­tury, pro­vid­ing open op­por­tu­ni­ties for the tam­per­ing of votes. By the use of EVMS, the is­sue of tam­per­ing is ma­jorly re­duced. In an EVM, five votes can be

cast in one minute, this ex­po­nen­tially re­duces the pos­si­bil­ity of rig­ging as it would be very time con­sum­ing for the booth cap­tur­ers and the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting caught would in­crease si­mul­ta­ne­ously. An EVM re­duces time which is usu­ally chan­nel­ized in un­der­tak­ing other ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tions. The man­ual work of count­ing raises the chance of hu­man er­ror, but ma­chines pro­vide nearly ac­cu­rate re­sults. Much pa­per is saved, so it can said to be en­vi­ron­ment-friendly. The tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment pro­vides much trans­parency that will en­sure bet­ter gover­nance. The records are main­tained so that any wil­ful con­duct of al­ter­ing it would be caught. These ad­van­tages must not be un­der­es­ti­mated by our po­lit­i­cal elite. Any func­tion­ing is at the ex­pense of the pub­lic ex­che­quer, so go­ing back­wards would only lead to a more ex­pen­sive process. If there are loop­holes in the func­tion­ing of the EVMS, then it must be prop­erly ex­am­ined and sound de­ci­sions should be taken af­ter care­ful de­lib­er­a­tions. Till now, no such al­le­ga­tions have been proved so it must be left upon the wis­dom of the com­mis­sion to un­der­take proper in­quiries and make the cor­rec­tions by lay­ing down ad­e­quate guide­lines ful­fill­ing the de­mands and make it more reg­u­larised. How­ever, In­dia is ac­cel­er­at­ing fast in the age of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment and we must strive to make it more ad­vanced and ef­fi­cient and spread across the globe our ef­fi­ciency in man­ag­ing and fa­cil­i­tat­ing elec­tions, to reap its ben­e­fits. In the words of the Chief Elec­tion Com­mis­sioner of Bhutan: “if we had to learn any­thing about man­ag­ing and con­duct­ing elec­tions, we had to look no fur­ther be­yond In­dia which has suc­cess­fully man­aged elec­toral ac­tiv­i­ties over the span of over 60 years. In­dia, be­ing the world’s largest democ­racy, has had un­wa­ver­ing suc­cess in con­duct­ing demo­cratic elec­tions. The task of de­ploy­ing thou­sands of of­fi­cers and mil­lions of EVMS and con­duct­ing an elec­tion of un­ques­tion­able in­tegrity is a ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment for any demo­cratic na­tion”.

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