The call to move to paper ballot doesn’t make the electoral process any more secure than alleged tampering of EVMs

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New Delhi | Published: August 30, 2018 3:21:46 AM

The Election Commission of India (ECI) promising a “satisfactory solution” to the concerns raised by political parties on electronic voting machines (EVM) tampering has kicked off a debate on whether India should return to paper ballots for voting.

At a recent all-party meeting organised by the ECI, several Opposition parties flagged instances of alleged EVM tampering and technical glitches in the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) system.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) promising a “satisfactory solution” to the concerns raised by political parties on electronic voting machines (EVM) tampering has kicked off a debate on whether India should return to paper ballots for voting. At a recent all-party meeting organised by the ECI, several Opposition parties flagged instances of alleged EVM tampering and technical glitches in the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) system. Some parties also suggested that the number of constituencies where results of EVM and paper audit trail device are matched be increased to enhance the confidence of voters and parties in the reliability of the voting mode. Parties also voiced issues with the VVPAT slip count cap. Voter-verifiable paper audit trail machines dispense a slip with the symbol of the party for which a person has voted for through the EVM. The slip appears on a small window for seven seconds and then drops in a box. But the voter cannot take it home.

While the ECI has claimed that EVMs are safe, and even challenged those opposed to the EVM-based polling to hack into the machine, it set certain conditions that meant there wasn’t enough time to make a concerted hacking attempt. What has fuelled opposition to EVMs is the fact that AAP MLA, Saurabh Bharadwaj, demonstrated EVM tampering from the benches of the Delhi Assembly last year using a prototype, J Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan’s Centre for Computer Security and Society, in an interview with the MIT Technology Review, stated that American voting machines are quite vulnerable to attempts to electronically manipulate election results. Halderman suggested that votes be recorded on paper as well, along with any online documentation if that is opted for. However, moving to paper ballots is definitely not the answer given the process will be extremely time-inefficient, and as was seen in the case of the Bengal panchayat elections, even more prone to rigging and capture. The call to do away with EVMs therefore seems to be an irrational one. To encourage greater confidence in EVMs and the voting process, the ECI should instead invite interested applicants to ‘hack’ into EVMs without the restrictive conditions it has set and mandate the matching of VVPAT with EVMs across all polling stations across all constituencies, instead of just one polling station per constituency as is mandated at present.

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