This should lay to rest the fears over EVM hacking.
The Supreme Court’s direction to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to increase random matching of voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) to five polling booths per assembly segment, from one at present, will help allay the doubts—even if these are irrational—that voters might have regarding EVMs. While 21 opposition parties were demanding that VVPAT slips be matched for at least 50% of EVMs across all assembly segments—currently, this is done for less than 1% of the EVMs—the ECI had opposed it because that would have imposed tremendous pressure on the poll regulator’s overextended manpower and infrastructure, and delayed announcement of results by six days. The SC reasoned that increasing the VVPAT matching to five booths per assembly segment will neither leave the ECI struggling for manpower nor will it delay the announcement of results significantly. But, the larger gain, as the SC noted in its ruling, is that increased VVPAT verification “would be of greater satisfaction not only of political parties but also for the entire electorate”.
The fact is that the constant attacks by political parties, be it the BJP in the pre-NDA-2 years or the Opposition parties now, are corrosive for the electorate’s faith in EVMs. There can be no doubt that the EVMs are a much more efficient way of polling and essentially an antidote to all the ways the paper ballot process can be hijacked, from booth capturing to manipulation of ballots and fake ballot papers. While the ECI has been insisting that the EVM it uses can’t be hacked, the demonstration of wired hacking by scientists at University of Michigan and by AAP legislators in the Delhi Assembly brought the EVM under a cloud in recent years. And, even though voters in Surat (Gujarat) and Mandsaur (Madhya Pradesh), the epicentres of the anti-GST and the farmers protests chiefly targeting the BJP, could have overwhelmingly voted for the BJP despite the protests, the clean sweep the BJP made in these regions have been used by opposition parties to further fan EVM-scepticism among voters. To be sure, the ECI challenged political parties and civil society bodies stoking anti-EVM paranoia to hack its EVM in an open event, and none of the parties claiming that EVMs could be tampered with participated. Former chief election commissioners, including SY Quraishi, vouched for its security. Experts have also detailed how it is nearly impossible to hack EVMs in a wireless manner with currently available technology, and even if such an endeavour were to become possible with new technology being developed, how expensive and complicated it would be, requiring the hacker to collaborate with, among others, the EVM manufacturer and the ECI itself! But, the cloud of suspicion has doggedly refused to lift, more so in the light of reports emerging that what ECI presented as the Indian Statistical Institute vouching for the adequacy of the existing level of VVPAT verification may have been the endorsement of just one of the academics at the hallowed institute, and not the institute’s considered view.
Once the ECI implements the SC order, and voters see for themselves how unfounded the fears over EVM hacking are, perhaps political parties across the spectrum will be forced to bury the bogeyman they have been using to put a spin on their own fast-eroding credibility at the hustings. Some have recommended that the ECI allow the candidate who comes second in EVM counting to select the five booths, but that is a call the ECI will have to take.