By Gautam Thaker*
In the recent past, many questions had cropped up regarding credibility of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in elections. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has taken in-principle decision to make use of voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines in the forthcoming assembly polls in Gujarat, which is a highly welcome move. Thus, possibly, Gujarat shall perhaps be the first State in the country where polls shall be conducted using the VVPAT. For about 50,000 polling booths, 75,000 EVMs and equal number of VVPAT machines will be needed.
For on-the-spot complaints about hacking or tampering with the EVM or the VVPAT machines, a system for complaint forms should be in place. Along the same lines, a system should also be evolved in the polling booths to lodge a complaint against the deletion of voters’ names from electoral rolls.
The ECI, by admitting the technical point, as to whether tampering with the EVMs is possible or not, should set free the EVMs from the cloud of suspicion. The ECI should not take the complaints of voters lightly and indifferently, as a mere allegation or a gimmick. Suspicion should soon be expelled or cleared and it is for the ECI to see to it that the polls are conducted in an impartial and fair manner. It remains to be ensured that, for the establishing a strong democracy, there is no doubt or suspense in the mindset of the voters.
Many civil organizations and the concerned people, by pleading with and battling up to the Supreme Court, had secured the directives for implementation of VVPAT machines. With the VVPAT method, a voter can ascertain for himself as to in whose favour he has cast his vote. After casting the vote, a paper is generated from the machine attached to the EVM, which shows as to whom one had given his vote. With the use of paper trail method, transparency can be maintained in the election process as also the credibility of the EVMs would be upheld.
In January 2017 the Supreme Court issued an Order that to ensure free and fair polls, the paper trail method is indispensable or inevitable and directed the ECI to implement it.For ensuring free and fair polls it is essential that a Voter has a fundamental right of knowledge and expression, as to in whose favour his vote has gone. By the use of VVPAT method, a voter can be able to know for sure as to in whose favor he had cast his vote.
The Supreme Court made a clear observation that, for free and fair elections, the need of paper trail in the EVM is indispensable. The Court also observed that by using the paper trail facility, trust of the voters can be established. Once this observation has been made, it is binding to all the courts and authorities including the Election Commission.
As a matter of fact, after the above observation on October 8, 2013, the ECI should not have given permission for holding parliamentary and State Assembly elections by using EVMs without VVPATs attached to it. The ECI is an autonomous body, which is a constitutional authority for supervision and control of elections to make sure that the polls are held in free and fair manner.
The ECI, which is bound to implement the directives of the Supreme Court must emphasize on the fact that all the future polls, including the forthcoming elections of Gujarat Assembly, are held only with EVMs equipped with VVPAT. The ECI ought to take cognizance of widespread criticism and comments against elections held recently, especially in Uttar Pradesh, without the VVPAT system. The ECI should take the observations made by the Supreme Court in all seriousness and act in such a manner as would restore the faith or confidence in the EVM.
It becomes duty of the Government of India and all the State governments, including the Gujarat government, that in pursuance with the Supreme Court order, enough funds should be allocated for procurement of VVPAT equipped EVMs in the interest of ensuring to the voters, exercise of ‘right to vote’ for free and fair polls.
The ECI has indeed taken a right step by taking in-principle decision about the VVPAT. As per the order of the Supreme Court, for free and fair elections, paper trail device is an indispensable must. Hence, in accordance with the directives of the Supreme Court, VVPAT system must be implemented in the forthcoming elections to be held in Gujarat in the 2017.
In case, it is not possible to make the use of VVPAT in the 2017 polls to be held in Gujarat, then the polls should be held with conventional method with the use of paper ballot. In our opinion, for holding elections in a democratic country, paper ballot method is the safest and an ideal method.
*General secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Gujarat