In the wake of intense criticism and scrutiny from various political parties over the vulnerability of its electronic voting machines (EVMs) to manipulation and tampering, the Election Commission has decided to address their concerns. The Commission will allow the parties an opportunity to try and hack into the ECI-EVMs. However, this exercise, whose date is yet to be finalised, will be limited to EVMs used in earlier elections.
The Election Commission announced the decision to at an all-party meeting organised at Constitution Club which was attended by representatives of all the seven national parties and of 35 of the 48 state level recognised parties, all of whom were invited to the event. At the meeting the Election Commission made a detailed presentation on the security features of its EVMs. It has all along maintained that the machines are tamper proof but has decided to allow parties to test this for themselves.
The parties had made representations to the EC and also to the President. In particular, following the announcement of results of the assembly elections in March, the Bahujan Samaj Party, Aam Aadmi Party, Congress and Samajwadi Party had alleged that the EVMs were compromised and that votes being cast in favour of other parties were going to the BJP. The Aam Aadmi Party also levelled this allegation in the context of Punjab where Congress came to power with a complete majority.
With concerns being raised by the parties repeatedly and AAP even going to the extent of organising a demonstration which allegedly ‘proved’ that EVMs could be tampered with,, all eyes were on the all-party meeting today to see how it would address the issue, in particular because the “aggrieved” parties were demanding a return to the paper ballots.
In fact, Atul Anjan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) even suggested so at the meet. He said even developed countries like the United States used paper ballots because “the EVMs can be hacked”. He also demanded state funding of elections and greater transparency in political funding.
Nilotpal Basu of the CPI opposed the idea of a return to ballot papers but demanded that the EVMs be subjected to independent checks. He also urged that the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) be matched with the at least 15% of the votes cast in each polling booth and the outcome be made known to all.
The Aam Aadmi Party, which had also got an EVM demonstration performed in Delhi Assembly by MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj recently to show that the machines could be tampered with, was represented in the meeting deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.
The BJP stood in favour of continuation of the EVMs. Its newly-elected legislator from Rajouri Garden in Delhi, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, said of the 37 cases pertaining to EVM tampering which have gone to court, in 30 the EVMs were found to be tamper-proof.
The Congress said it wants a “trustworthy system” and demanded that in the VVPAT more than seven seconds should be given to the voters to see who their vote went to. Its Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha said the EC also needs to examine the system of political funding through electoral bonds, which had been proposed in the budget, as it did not appear to be transparent.
The meeting also discussed proposals to make bribery by a candidate a cognisable offence and easing rules to order counting of votes through the VVPAT machines, for which a big order had been placed with two PSUs – Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) and Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) – by the EC last month.