Government

Civil Society Members Demand Counting of 'All VVPAT Slips' for 'Fullest Transparency'

"If free and fair elections are integral to the running of our democracy, the voter has to be provided with a mechanism where the casting of a vote is visible, and apparent to his or her understanding."

New Delhi: Members of civil society have released a statement demanding the counting of all VVPAT slips for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Recommending that “the VVPAT slips be recognised as the ballot paper”, the statement calls for the counting of every voter slip.

Asserting that the vote is a “citizen’s basic right that gives legitimacy, strength and body to the will of the people”, the statement – signed by Aruna Roy, Jayati Ghosh, Justice A.P. Shah, Sanjay Parikh and Syeda Hameed – asserts that the “voter cannot be compelled to repose her trust in an alien device”.

Pointing out the 2009 verdict by a German constitutional court, that struck down the “exclusive use of EVMs for recording and counting of votes and explained the rationale of a paper ballot for purposes of transparency and credibility”, the civil society members maintained that all ballots should be counted to “eliminate the doubts that are raised about manipulation and malfunction of the machines”.

Furthermore, the members also suggested that to “strengthen transparency and voter confidence”, in the future, “the VVPAT slip should be generated and received by the voter who will themselves drop the slip in the ballot box” as “the final act of casting of the vote”.

Also read: Can Political Parties Identify Who We Voted For?

Full text of the statement is reproduced below.

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“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 a vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in a democratic system.”
∼ Supreme Court of India in 2013.

A Voter’s act of casting a vote is the constitutive element for the forming of a representative government in a democracy. A vote is a citizen’s basic right that gives legitimacy, strength and body to the will of the people in the formation of a government.

In the prevailing Electronic Voting Machine paradigm of casting votes, the voter is required to record her choice by the pressing of a button on the EVM machine with the electoral choice being registered through the EVM. The registration of the vote by the machine is a technological operation which is entirely opaque to the voter.

If free and fair elections are integral to the running of our democracy, the voter has to be provided with a mechanism where the casting of a vote is visible, and apparent to his or her understanding. The registration of her vote in a transparent and verifiable manner is the only assurance which will meet the requirement and high bar of the promise guaranteed to her in a constitutional democracy. The voter cannot be compelled to repose her trust in an alien device.

The credibility of the voting process cannot be undermined by doubts of technological errors and manipulation of the EVM machines. The conduct of the election process should not only be fair, but should also appear to be fair, equally to all citizens. In 2009 the German Constitutional Court held that the exclusive use of EVMs for recording and counting of votes was unconstitutional, and explained the rationale of a paper ballot for purposes of transparency and credibility to the elector. Making it clear that the court’s decision did not rule out the use of voting machines in principle, in the Judgment of the Second Senate of March 3, 2009 on the basis of the oral hearing of 28 October 2008 – 2 BvC 3/07, 2 BvC 4/07, it stated that:

“The use of voting machines which electronically record the voters’ votes and electronically ascertain the election result only meets the constitutional requirements if the essential steps of the voting and of the ascertainment of the result can be examined reliably and without any specialist knowledge of the subject”

For similar reasons of transparent and voter confidence, the Supreme Court of India ordered that VVPATs should be made an essential feature of the EVM machines. The relevant portion of the judgment of the Supreme Court (Dr. Subramanium Swamy Vs Election Commission of India (2013)) reads as under:

“We are satisfied that the “paper trail” is an indispensable requirement of free and fair elections. The confidence of the voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of the “paper trail”. EVMs with VVPAT system ensure the accuracy of the voting system.”

It does not make sense to create a paper trail which provides confidence to the voter, and not use it for counting the ballot. Ironically, the Election Commission of India has turned the transparent VVPAT (the paper ballot) into an audit mechanism, and the opaque EVM into the ballot to be counted.

If the VVPAT slips were to be used for counting, it would eliminate the doubts that are raised about manipulation, and malfunction of the machines, as well as delink the debate about audit methodologies from the ballot.

We therefore strongly suggest that the VVPAT slip be recognised as the ballot paper – and as a consequence – each voter slip must be counted. There is no reason why this cannot be done even in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

In the future, however, to further strengthen transparency and voter confidence, we suggest that the VVPAT slip should be generated and received by the voter who will themselves drop the slip in the ballot box. In this proposed setup, the EVM machine’s role will be limited to generating the VVPAT slip and not the “official registration and counting” of the vote.

In this way, the dropping of the VVPAT slip in the ballot box shall amount to the final act of casting of the vote. The voter then has full control and agency in the casting of her vote that she herself can verify. The EVM machine can (if so desired) be used as a cross-check or audit mechanism.

There has been a lot of debate in public domain about EVMs, their reliability and the number of VVPAT slips to be counted for audit purposes. Several political parties and others have also repeatedly raised the issue demanding 50% count of VVPAT slips. However, once 100% VVPAT slips are generated they must be considered the paper ballot, and therefore looking at only a percentage of VVPAT slips as adequate for audit, is superfluous.

The Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every single adult citizen of this country. It does not speak of the statistical probability of the successful recording of the vote. The exercise of universal adult franchise for citizens is a right won through struggle and is the bedrock of modern Indian democracy. The paper ballot remains one of the most credible methods of casting a vote. The use of EVMs to generate the ballot, and the individual voter’s verification as the casting of the ballot, makes it essential that the voter-verified ballot be counted. Anything less would be a dilution of the universal and constitutionally protected principles of transparency and voter confidence.

Signed by:
1. Aruna Roy, Founder, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS)
2. Jayati Ghosh, Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University
3. Justice A.P. Shah, Former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court and Former Chairman of the 20th Law Commission of India
4. Sanjay Parikh, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India
5. Syeda Hameed, Former Member, Planning Commission of India

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