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World looks and wonders at India's EVM experiment

Impressed by the successful conduction of the ongoing elections, observers from across the globe are here to examine the EVMs in action.

india Updated: May 04, 2004 23:59 IST
Praveen K Singh
Praveen K Singh
PTI
Hindustantimes

After three phases of successful execution of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), India goes to the third round of polls on Wednesday morning.
Impressed by the whole process, observers from various European as well as developing nations are here to examine the EVMs in action.

Gary Wintle, a Norwegian, has come to India to have the first hand understanding of how EVMs are employed at such a largescale. When he met the Election Commission (EC) authorities and sought to clear his doubts regarding the machine's safety, the authorities assured him that EVMs are foolproof and cannot be tampered with.

"The officials at the Election Commission clarified that since the whole exercise has built-in checks and balances at several levels, chances of abusing the machines are almost negligible," says Wintle (after securing explanations from the EC).

In the last two phases of polls held on April 20 and 26, according to EC, breakdown of around 70 EVMs out of 63,000 shows the success of this gadget in India.

The last parliamentary elections, held in 1999, used only ballot papers to register votes, which had spawned 25,00,000 ballot boxes and 8000 tonnes of ballot paper.

This time, the EVMs manufactured by two Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) — the Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangalore and the Electronic Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad — are going to bring an end to the use of ballot papers in the country.

The EC authorities deny any loopholes in these machines. "These machines have only be approved and being used after several dynamic tests were conducted," explains AN Jha, deputy secretary and spokesman of the Election Commission of India.

S Rangarajan, who was member of team, which devised EVMs in India, points out, "The microchip used in EVMs is manufactured in US and it is sealed at the time of import. It cannot be opened and any rewriting of program can be done by anyone without damaging the chip. There is, therefore, absolutely no chance of programming the EVMs in a particular way to select any particular candidate or political party."

Rangarajan, who is also a acclaimed journalist based in Chennai, describes, "Above all, there is a master chip of each and every chip fitted in the EVMs and with the help of those any tampering can be detected, but, this will be in rarest of the case as EVMs are 100 per cent tamper proof."

But, how safe is EVMs from the booth capturers, which is common phenomenon in the states like Bihar and UP? Explains Jha, "By booth-capturing, if you mean, taking away or damaging of ballot boxes or ballot papers, then this foul cannot be barred by the use of EVMs as EVMs can also be forcibly taken away or broken by miscreants. But if one looks at booth capturing as a case of miscreants intimidating the polling personnel and stamping the ballot papers on the symbol and escaping in a matter of minutes, this can be prevented by the use of EVMs." He explains that the EVMs are programmed in such a way that the machines will record only five votes in a minute. As recording of votes has necessarily to be through control unit and balloting unit, whatever be the number of miscreants they can record vote only at the rate of 5 per minute. In the case of ballot papers, the miscreants can distribute all the 1000 odd ballot papers assigned to a polling station, among themselves, stamp them, stuff
them into the ballot boxes and run away before the police reinforcements reach.

"In half-an–hour, the miscreants can record only a maximum of 150 votes by which time, chances are the police reinforcement would have arrived. Further, the presiding officer or one of the polling officers can always press the ‘close’ button as soon as they see some intruders inside the polling station. It will not be possible to record any vote when once the ‘close’ button is pressed and this will frustrate the efforts of the booth-capturers," Jha elaborates.

Technically, the EVMs have been designed such that it will take not less than 5 hours for the miscreants to poll the a maximum of 1500 votes at a polling station.

Political observers believe that EVMs will considerably diminish, if not eradicate, electoral malpractices in our country. They believe that since the machines can be used only once in 12 seconds and need to be reset before the next vote is cast. The machine will automatically switch off after every vote is cast. Even when workers of a political party "capture" a booth, they will realize it unmanageable to cast more than five votes in a single minute. That too is possible only with the support of polling officers.

At the end, the polling officer will also be able to testify any mishap or manipulation of the machines, which would lead to cancellation of polling at that booth, they explain. Since polling personnel will be drawn from different districts and at every booth 50 per cent of the poll personnel will be from other districts, it will be challenging for political parties to persuade all of them.

Many political leaders, who witnessed the detailed exposition of EVMs by the EC, have expressed their approval with the practice of the machines. CPI’s (Communist Party of India) D Raja believes that the EC should be commended for the use of EVMs at such a high magnitude. "Voting by EVMs is easier compared to the conventional system, where one has to put the voting mark on or near the symbol of the candidate of his choice, fold it first vertically and then horizontally and thereafter put it into the ballot box. Where as in EVMs, the voter has to simply press the blue button against the candidate and symbol of his choice and the vote is recorded. Rural and illiterate people will have no problem in casting their votes," says Raja.

According to Bhartiya Janata Party’s Arun Jaitely, "Now with this the counting will be rapid and the result can be declared within 2 to 3 hours as compared to 30-40 hours, on an average, under the conventional system."

Also there will be no invalid votes under this system. Previously in every general election, the number of invalid votes was more than the winning margin between the winning candidate and the second candidate, in a number of constituencies. But now the preference of the electorate will be more correctly reflected when EVMs are used, Jaitely explains.

"After undergoing all kind of trials and researches, EVMs have been acknowledged by the Election Commission of India and till now no complaint against the system has cropped. We cannot assume that the EVMs can be tampered based on unjustifiable reports," expresses Rangarajan.

Earlier when the EVMs were first used in India two decades ago in the North Paravur Parliamentary by-elections in Kerala, the loser, A.C. Jose, challenged the result and the courts ordered a re-election but not on the grounds that EVMs were tampered with.