2019 Lok Sabha Polls With Paper Audit Trail, Says EC, After Cabinet Clears Funding

Technical experts have said the voter verifiable paper audit trail machines, or VVPAT, are absolutely secure, but doubts will likely persist.

A VVPAT machine. Credit: PIB

A VVPAT machine. Credit: PIB

New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Wednesday cleared a proposal by the Election Commission (EC) to procure 16.15 lakh voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines at a cost of Rs 3,173.47 crore, setting the stage for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which will be conducted with these machines.

While responding to the development, the EC said that “with this the Commission will ensure the total compliance of the orders of Supreme Court and its commitment to use VVPATs with every EVM at all polling stations in the country in General Elections 2019”. Experts who were on the technical committee appointed by the EC told The Wire that the paper audit trail should settle any doubts over political parties manipulating electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Technical expert says VVPAT ‘absolutely secure’

A member of the technical committee, who did not want to be named, said the VVPATs are “absolutely secure”. Explaining their functioning, he said: “The vote is seen only by the person who votes The slip is seen through a dark glass. It is not visible normally. It only becomes visible once the light comes on and it comes on only when the person voting is there. So there is no question of anyone else finding out who voted for whom.”

Once the vote is cast, he said, “the slip gets cut and falls into the ballot box. It is sealed with the seal of all the candidates as well as the Election Commission. The slip carries the candidates name and number. There is no identification of the voter on it. Also the slip falls into a ballot box where it is not visible.”

Only BEL and ECIL to manufacture VVPAT machines

Meanwhile, the EC said the new “VVPATs shall be manufactured by BEL (Bharat Electronics Limited) and ECIL (Electronics Corporation of India Limited) only as per the design approved by the Commission based on recommendation of the Technical Experts Committee on EVMs constituted by the commission and comprising of eminent technical professors from IITs.”

The EC also said that it would “closely monitor the production of VVPATs for timely delivery well before General Elections 2019.”

Complying with Supreme Court order

On April 13, the apex court stated that “with an intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system because vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in democratic system.”

Prior to this, the Supreme Court had in 2013, while responding to a petition, asked the EC to introduce the paper trail in EVMs in a phased manner for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, saying that this was essential as “it is an indispensable requirement of free, fair and transparent” polls.

Subsequently, the design of VVPAT made by BEL/ECIL was approved by the EC in 2013 and shown to persons who were pursuing matters in the Supreme Court. The rules were then amended, with the VVPAT first being used in the Nagaland by-election in 2013.

In 2014, the EC proposed to implement the VVPAT at every polling station in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and sought Rs 3174 crore funding from the Central government.

However, the Narendra Modi government sat on the proposal for a long time. This prompted chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi to write to Modi directly seeking an urgent release of funds to procure enough VVPATs to cover all polling stations in time for the next general election.

In March, the EC had submitted before the Supreme Court that it would need at least 30 months from the time of release of funds to procure the number of VVPATs needed.

Significant shift but doubts may prevail

The shift to VVPATs is a significant development as soon after the assembly polls in March, the BSP, Congress, AAP and Samajwadi Party alleged that votes cast in their favour had not been registered by the EVMs.

While the path has been paved for the procurement of more VVPATs, there is still no guarantee that the use of these machines will end allegations of vote manipulation. Although the machines were used on a trial basis in the assembly polls, one VVPAT allegedly printed only the BJP symbol during a demonstration ahead of the by-election at Ater in Madhya Pradesh, courting widespread controversy.

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