NEW DELHI: Polling for 2019 general elections will be conducted through paper trail-based electronic voting machines to "enhance transparency".
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Nasim Zaidi also said that voting through the internet is not on EC's agenda in the near future though it is going to use information and communication technology (ICT) in a big way to reach the voters in the coming days.
"We have reached a stage where people are demanding hundred per cent deployment of paper audit trail machine. We have preserved the secrecy (in this system) as well. Our plan is that by 2019, the whole country will be covered by paper audit trail machines. The budget for this has been committed now," Zaidi said while addressing an international seminar today.
The next general elections are due in 2019. The paper audit trail machine or Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was first introduced by the Commission in 2013 in order to enhance transparency in the polls process and increase electorate's confidence that their vote goes without error to their desired candidate.
Once the vote is polled, the VVPAT linked EVM immediately takes a printout and it is preserved for later use to tally in case there is a dispute in the final result. Zaidi, who was speaking on the topic 'Leveraging Technology for Transparent and Credible Elections', stressed that secrecy of voters will be zealously preserved.
While the poll watchdog is taking full advantage of ICT for "recommending legislation" on providing electronic postal ballot facility to overseas Indian voters, the CEC said the same confidence cannot be expressed at present in the context of internet voting owing to security concerns.
For e-postal ballot, Zaidi said a "safe technology" has been developed and it is being "validated and tested currently...." "Employing internet voting or online voting is not our horizon in the long term because it requires serious consideration of challenges posed by technology.
"We have to weigh between perceived and actual benefits versus perceived and actual challenges associated with online voting, security and secrecy of voting alongwith encryption and end-to-end verification of voters are some of the most important consideration in online voting," he said. Zaidi said the EC has always marched along with technology despite challenges coming its way like "controversies and opposition raised by political parties and activists" while introducing EVMs as replacement of the paper ballot system.
Zaidi said despite numerous allegations and accusations, the EVMs have stood the test of time and have proved their accuracy in ensuring free and fair polls across the country. "It took the Commission more than 20 years to develop and introduce EVMs in the country after fulfilling all legal requirements and convincing stakeholders about justification, accuracy and integrity of machines. EVMs are now fully accepted. They enjoy the trust and confidence of voters.
"Our machines are tamper and security proof and have complete integrity and transparency in storage, transportation and demonstration to political parties and candidates during election period. Cases of technical malfunctioning of EVMs do occur during testing and actual use, but we have an efficient system of replacement of these machine and within matter of less than an hour," Zaidi said while endorsing the EVMs.
He said despite these results, the EVMs "continued to be attacked by activists in various media and judicial fora on account of alleged lack of transparency". "According to these activists, a voter does not get any physical evidence whether his voting has gone to the intended candidate. This in turn has led to introduction of paper audit trail machines after an order of Supreme Court in 2013," he said.
The CEC said VVPAT machines hence acted to resolve the queries and clarifications sought by people in this regard. He added that "not a single" dispute has been reported from the country vis-a-vis VVPAT usage in polls and the EC has deployed more than 20,000 such paper audit trail machines till now.
While moving forward in this direction, the CEC said the most important thing to be kept in mind was the security of the data. "The biggest challenge in using ICT by electoral management bodies lies in relation to ICT security, certification and third party auditing.
"No electoral democracy can afford to have a technology that fails at its simplest and can be manipulated or subjected to malpractices at its worst. This can demolish the credibility of elections," he said.
Zaidi said the Commission is currently working on an e-governance vision 2020 to provide inclusive, integrated single window view of services to all stakeholders in all phases of the electoral cycle through various communication platforms.