Getting the right number

Ayan Acharya
NSoJ Bureau
In the special session of the Delhi Assembly recently, Saurabh Bharadwaj, AAP MLA from Greater Kailash and a computer engineer, demonstrated how an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) could be tampered with.

“There is no machine in this world that cannot be rigged or hacked. The countries that we bought in the EVMs, I have worked in those countries. In those countries too, ballot papers are used,” Bharadwaj announced.

The dramatic unfolding of events at the Delhi Assembly though hardly came as a surprise. The controversy surrounding EVMs has been brewing for awhile now, and warrants a closer scrutiny of how the issue started and where.

In early March during the Punjab elections, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal had claimed that EVMs were rigged and 20-25% of AAP votes were transferred to the Akali-BJP coalition. But it was BJP’s landslide win in Uttar Pradesh that really pushed Kejriwal over the edge, who has furthered his EVM tampering allegations and asked the Election Commission of India (ECI) to release EVMs for probe.

Meanwhile, Congress jumped on the bandwagon when it claimed that Samajwadi Party’s vote had gone to BJP during an ‘official media demonstration ahead of an assembly by-election in Madhya Pradesh next week.’

Adding fuel to the raging fire has been AAP’s waning influence in the political milieu of Delhi. A short time ago, Kapil Misra, one of Kejriwal’s close associates and a minister in his cabinet, had claimed that the “Delhi chief minister [Kejriwal] had delayed the probe into a Rs 400 crore tanker scam.” Perhaps, this is AAP’s last-ditch effort at salvaging some pride and retaining the trust of its electorate, which seems to have gone up in smoke for now.

The ECI though hasn’t bowed to circumstance. In a press release on Tuesday, the ECI said, “The EC, through media, has learnt about a so called demonstration of tampering of ‘look-alike’ EVM. In this context, it should be understood that it is possible for anyone to make any electronic gadget which ‘looks-like’ ECI EVM and demonstrate any Magic or Tampering.”

That said, this doesn’t absolve the ECI of all responsibility. It is public knowledge that India has known ballot stuffing and rigging under the aegis of this same body. After the introduction of EVMs in 1998, there have been several instances when ECI demonstrations of EVMs have gone wrong, and the commission was caught off-guard.The last time the EVMs were subjected to public scrutiny was way back in 2009, when software experts reportedly failed to find a loophole in the system.

Nevertheless, failure of an external audit does not equate to incorruptibility. Just because the exercise didn’t yield any results doesn’t mean there aren’t any lacunae in the system. To that end, the Kejriwal government is right in demanding a thorough investigation, but the timing of casting aspersions raises significant doubts.

Alternatives

In this day and age when the most complex computer systems have been hacked into with ease, the fear is that the integrity of EVMs has been compromised. This has led to a demand for a roll back to paper ballots. Before EVMs were introduced, voting took place through ballot papers.

This system, of course, wasn’t immune to drawbacks such as booth capturing, rigging, problems in maintenance, printing and storing the ballot boxes etc. There were instances when the number of invalid votes (marked incorrectly by illiterate voters) exceeded the winning margin.

In such a scenario, the switch from EVM to ballot needs to be weighed against the backdrop of a system that has done a commendable job save the occasional hiccups. Everything , therefore, needs to be taken at its face value and faith in the system must be upheld at all times.

 

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