Poll perfection: How EVMs have turned the tide

Introduction of machines was conceived 47 yrs ago to check dominance of muscle power.
Poll perfection: How EVMs have turned the tide

NEW DELHI : While announcing the seven-phase Lok Sabha elections schedule in March, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar used a verse to take a dig at the critics of electronic voting machines (EVMs), saying the poll authority is often at the receiving end of “unfulfilled desires”.

“Adhoori hasrato ka iljam har bar hum par lagana thik nahi, wafa khud se nahi hoti, khata EVM ki kehte ho, aur baad mein jab parinam aata hai toh uspe qayam bhi nahi rehte (it is not proper to blame the Election Commission for unfulfilled desires when one has not done his or her job properly; (you) put blame on EVM. And when the result is announced later, you don’t stick to your claims),” Kumar had said.

He was referring to criticism of political parties, primarily the Opposition INDIA bloc, which often casts doubts on the functioning of EVMs.

The introduction of machines in the electoral process in the country was first conceived 47 years ago as a solution to the “problem and dominance of muscle power” in the elections. The purpose was also to reduce the counting time, eliminate invalid voting, and get rid of bogus voting. Since then, it has been quite an eventful journey of EVMs as part of electoral reforms.

Poll perfection: How EVMs have turned the tide
Onus lies with EC to prove EVM reliability

A prototype device was developed with collaboration of Electronic Corporations of India, Hyderabad. All parties were invited and a demonstration was made before their representatives in August 1980. Another PSU, Bharat Electronics Limited, was roped in for manufacturing of the polling appliances. A broad consensus led to the use of EVMs for the first time in a by-election held in Paravur assembly segment in Kerala in May 1982; about 50 machines were used.

According to “Leap of Faith: Journey of Indian Elections”, a publication of EC, buoyed by the success of the experiment, the EVMs were brought in alongside ballot boxes in assembly polls later held in Nagaland, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar during 1982-83.

However, a Supreme Court ruling derailed the plan of the Commission to launch EVMs nationally in all elections. In March, 1984 the SC set aside the election of Parur on the ground that use of EVM violated the provisions of Representation of the People Act, 1951 and other rules. It further stated that EVMs could not be introduced in absence of an enabling legislation. Subsequently, the Act was amended in 1989 and it took another nine years to build a general consensus and machines were employed in some constituencies in assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

The idea of weeding out ballot boxes, conceived 22 years ago, attained finality in 2004. A history was created as the Lok Sabha elections in that year were conducted only with EVMs in all 543 parliamentary constituencies. About 10.75 lakh EVMs were used.

Poll perfection: How EVMs have turned the tide
SC rejects all petitions seeking 100% verification of EVM votes with their VVPAT slips

According to the commission, an “unexpected trouble erupted, which threatened to undermine the consensus on the use of EVMs” in 2009 soon after the results of the 15th general elections were announced. Some parties questioned the credibility of the machines.

A representation to the Commission over machine manipulation made soon after 2009 Lok Sabha elections by retired bureaucrat Omesh Saigal stirred a controversy. “I was particularly shocked with the Lok Sabha results in Delhi; Congress has won all seven seats. I wrote to the Election Commission about possible manipulation and then BJP leader LK Advani also wrote about machines,” said Saigal who has served as chief secretary of Delhi.

Subsequent to his letter on technological vulnerability of the polling devices, the Commission had to issue a press statement saying that it was amply satisfied about the non-tamperability and the fool-proof working of the EVMs.

To boost credibility of the counting process, EC commenced the arrangements of Voters Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in 2013, which allow a voter to satisfy himself that the candidate of his choice has been voted.

In its second edition of ‘Leap of Faith: Journey of Indian Elections’ published in September 2023, the EC said, “With universalisation of the VVPAT machine in the 17th general elections, the EVM has registered its final victory. So far, not a single case of difference in the tally of votes between EVM and VVPAT has emerged.”

Digital initiatives in the last decade

In August 1997, the Election Commission decided upon a nationwide programme for computerisation as part of comprehensive electoral roll management. The database of electoral lists now can be regularly updated while maintaining the integrity and continuity of data. In the last one decade especially, the commission has introduced various digital initiatives to facilitate voters and candidates. An overview.

2015 : The National Voter Service Portal (NVSP): Offers single window services to electors for registration of new voters, corrections, checking details of polling booths, constituencies or contact details of booth-level officers and electoral registration officers

2016 : Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System: The facility entails one-way electronic transmission of postal ballots to the service voters. Electors could register online on a dedicated portal https://www.servicevoter.eci.nic.in

2018 : ERONET (Electoral Roll Officers’ Network): All the 28 states and eight Union Territories share common infrastructure at national level. Acts as a backbone for data entered by citizens on NVSP or through Voter Helpline mobile app

cVIGIL app: Facilitates the user to report to the authorities all Model Code of Conduct violations, expenditure limit on campaign, malpractices such as bribery and threat. The app allows the user to capture and transmit photo or video along with geo-tagging to pinpoint the location

2019 : Revamped version of National Voters’ Service Portal: A one-stop voter solution portal, available at https://www.nvsp.in

New IT-based initiative for faster real-time trends and results on the counting day. Feature was launched ahead of the counting day in 2019 general elections. The Chief Electoral Officers, Returning Officers and District Election Officers in various states and UTs used this live feed for local displays on digital screens

Voter Helpline app: Allows the voter to know about the election date, search the electoral roll, submit registration form, be informed about the candidates, know the estimated length of queue in booth on real-time basis and check the results

Observer app: Allows general, police and expenditure observers to file all their statutory reports, keep track of complaints filed through cVIGIL app, know the location of flying squads and call them in case of need

Voter Turnout app: Allows voters across the country to see the real-time availability of voter turnout during the election season in the country

2020 : Garuda app: Besides digital mapping of polling booths, it helps booth-level officers, and is particularly helpful in field verifications. Supporting documents and photos can be uploaded in digital form

Candidate Nomination app: Allows the candidates to file their nomination papers online, digitise their affidavits and deposit security amount online

2021 : e-EPIC or digital voter identity cards: Provides ease of access to the EPIC (election photo identity card) in a secured manner. The e-EPIC could be downloaded on mobile and in a self printable form on a computer

2022 : Aadhaar-linking and authentication of EPIC. Programme to collect Aadhaar numbers of existing and prospective electors on voluntary basis

Know Your Candidate app: Electors get to know about particulars and criminal antecedents, if any, of every candidate in the elections (as disclosed to the Returning Officer in one’s nomination)

2023 : Saksham-ECI app: Previously called Persons with Disabilities (PwD) app, it has several additional features like Know Your Candidate, booth locator, grievance redress, request for assistance at the booth, request for pick and drop, audio/video on accessible elections on request, a booth-level officer reaches the applicant’s doorstep for delivery of electoral service

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