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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Glitches in voting machines hit bypolls in many states, BJP and rivals knock on EC’s door

Voting in Uttar Pradesh’s Kairana and Maharashtra’s Palghar and Bhandara-Gondia Lok Sabha bypolls took a hit on Monday after reports of EVMs malfunctioning in several places.

india Updated: May 28, 2018 23:20 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Voters queue up at a polling booth in Sonta Rasoolpur village in Kairana on Monday.
Voters queue up at a polling booth in Sonta Rasoolpur village in Kairana on Monday. (HT Photo)

Snags in paper trail machines (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail machines or VVPATs) plagued bypolls held on Monday in several Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies even as political parties across the spectrum raised the bogey of the large-scale tampering of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

In Monday’s bypolls, VVPAT machines were used in all booths. The glitches were predominantly reported in the paper trail machines.

The Election Commission said 96 balloting units and 84 control units of EVMs and 1,202 VVPATs had to be replaced. During the polling process, the control unit of an EVM remains with the presiding officer, while the balloting unit is placed inside the voting compartment.

The poll panel dismissed reports of large-scale malfunctioning as “exaggerated”, although one EC official who asked not to be identified said VVPAT machines were liable to malfunction when placed in direct sunlight. In all, bypolls were held in nine assembly and four Lok Sabha constituencies across 10 states on Monday. The votes will be counted on May 31.

Delegations from both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition parties met the EC in Delhi to register their complaints. The maximum number of complaints came from the Kairana Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is slugging it out with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) candidate supported by almost the entire Opposition.

The RLD candidate, Tabassum Hasan, alleged that EVMs and VVPATs were not working in many booths. She also submitted a constituency-wise list of over 150 faulty EVMs to the EC.

“Voters are being denied their rights but nobody is listening to our complaints,” she said. “Most of the complaints of technical glitches are coming from Dalit- and Muslim-dominated areas. The BJP leaders are adopting every tactic to stop my victory but people will foil their plans,” she alleged.

The BJP’s in-charge for the Kairana election, Devendra Singh, filed a complaint with the EC and claimed that EVMs at over 100 booths in areas dominated by BJP supporters were faulty. The SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary claimed 140 EVMs were tampered in the Noorpur assembly constituency and that similar reports had come in from Kairana.

The EC official mentioned in the first instance admitted that 355 VVPAT machines in Kairana and 40 in Noorpur were replaced.

Complaints against EVMs have gathered steam over the past few years, although there is no proof they machines can be compromised. To address such concerns, the EC mandated the use of VVPAT machines in all bypolls. Ironically, this seems to have been the main cause of the problems experienced on Monday. “Most of the cases of the failure of the machines were related to the VVPAT, which were being used for the first time in Maharashtra. Since the EC had issued guidelines to compulsorily use the VVPAT, we could not use the units with malfunctioning VVPATs. About 20% VVPATs were kept on standby in all the polling stations in the two constituencies,” said an official from the Maharashtra state EC. According to this person, 277 VVPATs in Palghar LS seat and 295 in Bhandra-Gondia developed snags.

Like EVMs, VVPATs are made by state-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd and Electronics Corp of India Ltd. Ashish Kansal, senior DGM (communications) of Bharat Electronics Limited, said: “All the machines that are supplied to the EC are rigorously tested to work under varying conditions. There are no design flaws in the machine. Only EC can explain if and how any of these units have failed. We ensure complete quality testing before the machines are delivered to EC.”

In Nagaland, where bypolls to the its lone Lok Sabha constituency were held, a mob entered a polling station in Kubza, destroyed the EVM and assaulted officials hours after a VVPAT machine stopped functioning.

A former CEC, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the EC will have to examine the reason for the snags. “There could be various reasons for malfunctioning, these are after all machines. Besides, the commission always keeps provision for extra machines to meet exigencies.”

The first EC official referred to what he termed a “contrast error” in VVPAT machines.

In Uttar Pradesh, complaints of technical glitches started pouring in soon after polling began in Kairana and Noorpur at 7am. Additional district magistrate, Shamli, Kunwar Bahadur Singh, said VVPATs attached to EVMs developed snags as they were heat-sensitive. “In many booths, polling staff placed the machines near windows exposing them to the sun. Faulty machines were replaced,” he added.

The EVMs themselves are immune to all weather conditions, a second EC official who asked not to be identified said. “Normally, EVMs do not malfunction on account of variation in weather... They are designed to withstand extreme conditions and absorb external shocks.”

Even as a delegation of opposition parties, comprising the Congress, RLD and SP demanded a re-poll in booths where the election process was stalled for over 90 minutes on account of snags, the poll panel maintained that all malfunctioning machines were replaced following due process.

Congress leader RPN Singh, who was part of the delegation, said “hundreds” of EVMs malfunctioned in Kairana. A BJP delegation, which included party general secretaries Bhupendra Yadav and Arun Singh and media-in-charge Anil Baluni also complained to the EC. It said around 197 EVMs and VVPATs were not working for a long time and demanded an inquiry.

An official EC statement said the delegation was “assured all necessary action will be taken” and “concerns regarding VVPAT have been verified and appropriate action taken.” “The Commission undertakes a comprehensive examination and root-cause analysis of all defects observed in the machines through the technical experts committee of the Commission and necessary remedial actions are being taken for smooth conduct of poll process,” the statement added.

On the delay caused by the snags, the EC said the time taken to replace any EVM/VVPAT at a polling station is normally less than 30 minutes. “The replacement of defective EVMs/VVPATs during actual polls is a normal process and does not vitiate the integrity or credibility of the poll process in any way whatsoever,” it said.

First Published: May 28, 2018 13:02 IST