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Bring back ballot papers, Opposition tells Election Commission

Ahead of the all-party meeting called by the Election Commission, the Congress announced its request for ballot papers instead of electronic voting machines which it had alleged were tampered.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2018 23:18 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
New Delhi
Paper ballots,Election Commission,Congress
Officials check a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machine in Bengaluru during Karnataka assembly elections in May. (Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

Opposition parties, including the Congress, on Monday reiterated their demand for a return to ballot papers and called for a cap on poll expenditure in a meeting with the Election Commission.

If going back to ballot papers was not possible for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the commission should at least ensure a sample check of electronic voting machines (EVMs), the Congress said, as the Opposition bloc raised complaints over alleged EVM malfunctions.

“We will definitely look into all the suggestions given by them and there will be a satisfactory solution to them,” chief election commissioner (CEC) OP Rawat told reporters after an all-party meeting in New Delhi.

The election commission convened Monday’s meeting with all recognised national and state parties to discuss several issues, including the fidelity of electoral rolls, gender representation within party structures and ticket distribution, political expenditure, and the expenditure ceiling for legislative council elections.

“Malfunctioning of EVMs is a major issue. VVPATs (voter verifiable paper audit trails) were introduced but are not being cross-checked. We demanded that at least 30% of the votes should be cross-checked,” Congress leader Mukul Wasnik said.

Representatives of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Trinamool Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (CPI), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) also raised the EVM issue, which has become a sticking point before most state elections over the four years.

The CPI(M) stressed there should be more safeguards in the voting system.

“Around 70% political parties have demanded that the EC revert to the old system of ballot papers during elections. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) was singled out today,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters.

The ruling BJP and Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (BJD) said they were satisfied with EVMs. Tamil Nadu’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) said it was fine with both EVMs and ballot papers.

BJP leader and Union minister JP Nadda said the EC’s move to cross-check EVM results with the help of VVPATs was a good one. “We should think ahead. EC has properly replied to all questions raised about EVMs and we should look forward. (Using) VVPAT is a good move and it should be taken forward,” he said. Rawat said the poll watchdog will take a comprehensive view on the EVM issue. “Some of the parties said going back to ballot is really bad as it will bring back booth capturing...we don’t want (that)... some parties said there are problems with EVMs, there are issues with VVPAT slip count...,” he said.

Venkatesh Nayak of Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, which has worked on electoral reforms, too felt ballot papers will mean the return of “the era of booth capturing and bogus voting”. “However, I would like the EC to publicly assure voters that EVMs are tamper-proof,” he said .

CEC Rawat added that a major takeaway from the meeting was that parties were “very positive and very constructive” in suggesting ways to further boost the integrity of elections.

He also said parties raised the issue of simultaneous polls. “A few supported and others opposed it,” Rawat said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has backed the idea.

On the ceiling on spending, the Congress was in favour of cap on expenditure by political parties.

Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress said his party was demanding state funding of elections to curb corruption and a ceiling on expenditures by a candidate. Nilotpal Basu of the CPI(M) said it raised the question of election funding because that was in the minds of the electorate.

Some parties, including the BJP, urged the Election Commission to link Aadhaar with electoral rolls to weed out bogus voters. In a statement, the BJP said that it told the poll panel that immediate steps are required for maintaining voters’ list in alphabetical order so that duplicate names can be deleted.

First Published: Aug 27, 2018 18:19 IST