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Efficacy of electronic voting machines under a cloud

india Updated: May 13, 2014 02:04 IST
Chetan Chauhan

The indigenously developed electronic voting machines (EVMs) have raised the hackles of most parties with allegations of unprecedented, widespread rigging in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.

The Congress for the first time questioned the efficacy of the EVMs, claiming these were rigged in favour of the BJP in Gujarat, where the saffron party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is the chief minister.

For its part, the BJP complained that the EVMs were rigged in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. “Large-scale rigging is taking place,” Modi said at a rally in West Bengal, after which party leader Arun Jaitley lodged a complaint with the EC.

The machines -- introduced in 1981 -- can be rigged in two ways. One, with the help of poll officers and, two, by tampering the hardware to favour a particular candidate irrespective of the button pressed.

The EC has received complaints from UP, Bihar and Haryana that poll officers helped certain candidates rig votes, which is not possible without precise planning.

After a favourable poll officer is deployed at a booth, the polling agents of rival candidates need to be made to leave before the representatives of the formidable candidate can rig the polls unresisted.

That was the complaint against RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s daughter Misa Yadav, contesting the Patliputra seat. It resulted in the suspension of all officers at a polling station. Similar complaints were lodged by the CPM against Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the BJP against Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.

Not ruling out the possibility of rigging in connivance with the poll officers, the election commission found most of the complaints to be untrue and said large-scale rigging was not possible.

But that has not deterred contestants from complaining.”We provided specific evidence but the EC did not act,” Aam Aadmi Party’s candidate from Gurgaon Yogendra Yadav said in his complaint to the commission on Monday.

An EVM has two units: a control unit (with the presiding officer) and the balloting unit (in the voting compartment). That is a safeguard as a vote can be cast only after the officer presses ‘okay’ button in the control unit. “Not more than 120 votes can be cast in an hour as the machine takes time to register a vote,” an official said.

The common refrain among anti-EVM proponents is that most developed countries don’t use electronic devices to capture votes. The US has a mix of paper and electronic ballot, the UK and Germany use paper. Some countries have reverted to paper ballot after EVMs came under a cloud.