Electronic voting machines will soon carry photos of all poll hopefuls to curb the age-old electoral practice of confusing voters by fielding dummy candidates with similar names.
The election commission has set up an expert committee to design photo EVMs, likely to be rolled out in Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir, which are slated to go to the polls later this year.
Dummy candidates often swing close elections, polling more votes than the winning margin. The practice was widespread in May’s general elections, where around half of the constituencies had two or more candidates with similar names.
In Chhattisgarh’s Mahasamund, Congress’ Ajit Jogi fielded 10 candidates with the same name as his BJP opponent Chandulal Sahu but narrowly lost the seat. Actor Hema Malini also had to defeat nearly half a dozen other Hemas in Mathura.
Others weren’t so lucky. Shazia Ilmi of the Aam Aadmi Party lost last December’s Delhi elections from RK Puram by less than 400 votes after dummy candidates received a sizeable share of votes.
In spite of this, the menace wasn’t taken seriously by the poll watchdog till a recent Supreme Court directive. In a PIL, lawyer Sunil Goel suggested photos of candidates on EVMs would help in dealing with the problem of dummy candidates.
“We agree that photos on EVMs can help voters in selecting the candidate of their choice,” a senior EC functionary said.
The challenge, however, is to redesign the ballot paper used in EVMs, located on the left side of the machines next to the buttons used to vote. The ballot paper contains the list of candidates and their poll symbols.
“We will have to see how photos can be accommodated since there is very little space available on the ballot paper used in the machines,” the EC official said.
In some states, the ballot paper contains candidates’ names in two or three languages. The EC has also directed that the poll symbol be printed prominently on the ballot paper.
The expert committee will submit its recommendations on redesigning the EVM ballot paper soon but it won’t be applicable to the recently-announced Maharashtra and Haryana elections.