EVMs, Their Controversial History and the VVPAT – What Should the World’s Largest Democracy Do?

When Chinese hackers caused power disruption in Mumbai, a paper ballot under heavy paramilitary presence seems to be a step in the direction of Democracy and true Constitutional Spirit.

The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), the replacement of the ballot box is mainstay in the electoral process. First conceived in 1977 in the Election Commission, the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. (ECIL), Hyderabad was assigned the task to design and develop it. In 1979 a proto-type was developed, which was demonstrated by the Election Commission before the representatives of political parties on 6th August, 1980. The Bharat Electronic Ltd. (BEL), Bangalore, another public-sector undertaking, was co-opted along with ECIL to manufacture EVMs once a broad consensus was reached on its introduction.

First time use of EVMs occurred in the general election in Kerala in May, 1982; however, the absence of a specific law prescribing its use led to the Supreme Court striking down that election. Subsequently, in 1989, the Parliament amended the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to create a provision for the use of EVMs in the elections (chapter 3). A general consensus on its introduction could be reached only in 1998 and these were used in 25 Legislative Assembly constituencies spread across three states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi. Its use was further expanded in 1999 to 45 Parliamentary Constituencies and later, in February 2000, to 45 Assembly Constituencies of the Haryana Assembly elections. In the State Assembly elections, held in May 2001, in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry and West Bengal, the EVMs were used in all the Assembly Constituencies. Since then, for every State Assembly election, the Commission has used the EVMs. In 2004, in the General Election to the Lok Sabha, the EVMs (more than one million) were used in all 543 Parliamentary Constituencies in the country.

An EVM consists of two units, namely, Control Unit (CU) and Balloting Unit (BU) with a cable (5 mt. long) for connecting the both. A Balloting Unit caters up to 16 candidates. There are number of variants available for the EVMs. Time-to-time, it has evolved and has become more robust. In case of pre-2006 (M1) and post-2006 EVMs (M2), 4 (Four) Balloting Units can be cascaded together to accommodate up to a maximum of 64 candidates (including NOTA), which can be used with one Control Unit. In case of upgraded post-2006 EVMs (M3), 24 (Twenty-Four) Balloting Units can be cascaded together catering to 384 candidates (including NOTA) which can be used with one Control Unit. It runs on a power pack (Battery) having 7.5 volts. In case of M3 EVM, power packs are inserted in 5th, 9th, 13th, 17th & 21st Balloting Units, if more than 4 BUs are connected to a Control Unit. On the right side of the BU along the candidates’ vote button, digits 1 to 16 are embossed in Braille signage for guidance of visually impaired electors.

The design and application of EVMs in the elections are considered a significant achievement in global democracy. It has brought more transparency, swiftness, and acceptability in the system. It has also helped in creating a vast pool of election officials well versed in its use. In its evolution, the Commission has issued series of instructions, frequently asked questions, and technical guidelines. During this period a number of judicial pronouncements has also helped in making the EVMs an integral component of our electoral system.

Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail – VVPAT

In a meeting of all political parties held on 4th October, 2010, the parties expressed satisfaction with the EVM but some parties requested the Commission to consider introducing Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail for further transparency and verifiability in poll process. The Commission referred the matter to its Technical Expert Committee on EVMs for examining and making a recommendation in this regard. The Expert Committee had several rounds of meetings with the manufacturers of EVM, namely, BEL & ECIL, on this issue and then had met the political parties and other civil society members to explore the design requirement of the VVPAT system with the EVM.

On the direction of the Expert Committee, the BEL and ECIL made a prototype and demonstrated before the Committee and the Commission in 2011. On the recommendation of the Expert Committee on EVM & VVPAT system, the Commission conducted simulated election for the field trial of VVPAT system in Ladakh (Jammu & Kashmir), Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), Cherrapunjee (Meghalaya), East Delhi District (NCT of Delhi) and Jaisalmer (Rajasthan) in July 2011. All stakeholders including senior leaders of political parties and civil society members participated and witnessed enthusiastically in the field trial. After 1st field trial of the VVPAT system, Commission made a detailed reassessment of the VVPAT system to further fine-tune the VVPAT system. Accordingly, the manufacturers developed 2nd version of VVPAT prototype. The same was again subjected to 2nd field trial in the said five locations in July-August 2012.

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