With repeated allegations on the reliability of the electronic voting machines (EVMs), the issue has been a subject of debate.
In India's electoral process, voter fraud allegations tend to be recurrent. Be it Lalu Prasad in Bihar, Harish Rawat in Uttarakhand, Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh or Arvind Kejriwal with regards to the Delhi MCD polls, all claimed EVM fraud and sought investigation in the matter.
Last week, Aam Aadmi Party MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj even went on to demonstrate in a special session of the Delhi Assembly as to how the EVMs can be tampered using certain codes.
Here is a recap into the issue being raised over the years:
Lok Sabha elections in 2009 -
LK Advani alleged that the EVMs were not ‘foolproof’ in the Lok Sabha Polls and received support from a number of political parties. Highlighting the issue of malfunctioning of EVMs, LK Advani suggested that the Election Commission revert to ballot papers.
The then Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley along with Left, BSP and BJP extended support on the issue.
Odisha elections in 2009 -
Senior Congress leader JB Patnaik alleged that BJD had won the election by tampering EVMs and bribing candidates.
General Elections in 2014 -
Following Narendra Modi-led NDA sweeping votes across the country in the General Elections, the issue of faulty EVMs was raised.
Citing reports of glitches in the functioning of the EVMs in Assam, Congress leader and then Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi alleged that the BJP had tampered the machines at National Level.
Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam too claimed that it was not possible for the Congress candidates to be defeated with huge margins in certain states. AAP candidate from Mumbai North East Medha Patkar went on to file a complaint with the Election Commission.
BMC elections in 2017 -
Six candidates from Mumbai’s K West wards alleged that they noticed 'huge discrepancies' in the number of votes, citing EVMS were tampered and demanded re-polling with ballot papers.
Also, the date of polling in certain wards showed February 23 instead of February 21 on several EVMs. Many losing candidates wrote to the EC reporting that they got zero votes even after garnering a high number of votes from their constituencies, caliming that the EVMs were manipulated in BJP’s favour.
State assembly elections in 2017 -
Post the declaration of the results of assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, the debate on faulty EVMs once again surfaced.
BSP chief Mayawati took up the issue of EVM tampering in Uttar Pradesh following BJP’s whopping victory and demanded investigation on voting machines. Even Samajwadi Party came on board with the issue questioning the usage of EVMs with National President Akhilesh Yadav offering to look into it at his level.
Mayawati even moved to Court on the issue, saying that the BJP tampered with the EVMs in at least 250 seats out of 403 in the Assembly polls.
Delhi MCD elections in 2017 -
Aam Aadmi Party alleged manipulation of EVMs after BJP's win in the Delhi municipal body polls. AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had even threatened to launch an agitation over the issue after the party's disappointing performance in the Punjab and Goa Assembly Elections.
Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia even claimed that the BJP win was due to EVM wave and not Modi wave.
In India, conducting elections can be a gigantic deal but as there are possibilities of flaws, the big question arises as to whether these flaws can impact the outcome of an election.
Let's take a quick scan at how the EVMs actually work:
Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) -
Manufactured in 1989-90, the EVMs consist of two Units – a Control Unit and a Balloting Unit. While the Control Unit remains in the control of the polling officer, the Balloting Unit is where the voters do the punching. There is no requirement of any mobile or internet connectivity for the EVMs as they run on a 6-volt single alkaline battery. It can register upto 64 candidates and record a maximum of 3,840 votes.
The voter has to simply press the button against the candidate and symbol of their choice for the vote to be recorded making the EVMs a welcome for the rural and illiterate people.
The presiding officer who is in charge of the control unit, hands over the account of recorded votes on the Balloting unit to each polling agent. Once the counting begins, the agents tally the total to note any discrepancy. The 'Results' button displays the results during the counting phase but is sealed and cannot be used untill the presiding officer presses the ‘Close button’ at his end.
EVMs have an identity number attached to each machine and is recorded in the database of the Elections Commission. When the machines are being transported to and from the election booth, the ID is evaluated against the database. This process is accomplished before the counting of votes begin. Central forces guard the machines between the voting and counting periods.
Introduction of Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) -
After a PIL filed by Subramanian Swamy, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission on October 8, 2013 to introduce the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system to ensure free and fair polls thus resolving disputes, if any.
During the 2014 general elections, the VVPAT system was introduced in 8 of 543 parliamentary constituencies and was used in 516 polling stations across eight states.
The printer-like machine is attached to every EVM machine and displays the serial number, name of the candidate and the party symbol when a voter casts his vote on EVM, thus giving a confirmation of the voter's choice.
The voter can cross-check the details after a generated paper slip is shown in the drop box for a while but the receipt however, will not be given to the voter. In case of any discrepancy, the counting of such slips could be ordered.
Complaints against EVM machines -
Advocate Pran Nath Lekhi filed a petition against EVMs in 2004 before the Delhi High Court alleging that the machines were tampered to favour UPA in the election results. However, there was no merit found in the petition.
A losing candidate filed a plea in 1999 challenging the role of EVMs in the Yelahanka parliamentary constituency. The Karnataka High Court after studying the the safety features in its verdict in 2005, said that the EVMs were a great achievement in the country and ruled out that the machines were tamper-proof.
Professor J Alex Halderman of University of Michigan and Indian scientist Hari Prasad in a 2010 report cited several vulnerabilities with the EVMs particularly if the machines were given access in advance.
Professor Halderman demonstrated that signals in mobile phones could be linked up to EVMs to get desired results.
The Election Commission of India has repeatedly denied the allegations and recapitulated their stand that the EVMs were given the highest security standards adding that the machines cannot be tampered with.