Editorial: Keep Faith In Voting Machines

Editorial: Keep Faith In Voting Machines

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Sunday, April 21, 2024, 10:29 PM IST
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The Supreme Court taking up the petition filed by the usual suspects glorying in PILs on all and sundry issues, a few days before polling in the 18th General Election got underway, was itself proof that it had no intention of blocking the voting process through the Electronic Voting Machines. During the course of the petition the apex court further made it clear that it will not move the clock back and enforce paper ballots along with or without EVMs throughout the country. Mind boggles at the sheer expense of what could it entail to make vital changes in the way nearly a billion people exercise their franchise. The PIL movers questioned the authenticity of the vote, arguing that the EVMs could be easily manipulated in favour of the ruling party at the Center. To counter this suspicion, the court had earlier prescribed that 5% of the EVMs at random ought to have what is called the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) trail. That would further allay any lingering doubt about the genuineness of the vote and restore confidence in the EVMs as a whole. Such a system is now being followed since the last few polls. Yet, the losers who must make excuses for their failure to impress the voters point the accusing finger at the EVMs.

Of course, it was not the Narendra Modi government which initiated voting through EVMs. The process began in a modest manner back in the early 1980s when Indira Gandhi was prime minister. The Election Commission first tried the EVMs in a constituency in Kerala in 1982. Over the years, as the EVMs underwent improvements these had come to be used in all Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. And the crucial thing to note is that the EVMs are being used in States where the BJP is in power and in those where the Opposition is in power. One no longer hears about widespread malpractices in the polls. In the first few parliamentary polls, it was not unusual, especially in the rural areas, for the weaker sections to be forcibly denied their fundamental right to vote. Musclemen of candidates voted for them, stuffing ballot papers into boxes earmarked for each candidate. Booth capturing and bogus voting were rampant in the rural hinterland, especially in Bihar, UP, Madhya Pradesh, etc. Political lore has it that in Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in western UP, the bastion of the late Jat leader Charan Singh, Dalits were forcibly kept away from the polling booths, their votes cast by the dominant castes in favour of their own candidates. Winds of change began to flow sometime in the early ’80s, and today it is rare to find members of the weaker sections complaining about someone else casting their vote. Without the EVMs and the simultaneous identity check through Aadhaar or some such document, nearly one-hundred percent transparency in the polling process would have been hard to achieve. But the PILwallahas want to junk the EVMs? Or at least want that each EVM has the paper trail attached to it. Aside from the prohibitive cost involved, such a cumbersome process would delay the counting of votes. In the previous system counting could take days on end because the exercise involved collecting the ballot boxes at one place, sorting out the votes in bundles, say, of 100 each, counting them manually, setting aside the invalid votes, and then collating the figures for the final result. Counting agents of rival candidates would bicker over each ballot paper suspecting that a vote in favour of their candidate was wrongly invalidated, or the rival agent had wrongly inflated the vote-count, etc. The counting process now hardly takes a couple of hours, thanks to the EVMs. These machines do not make it easy for anyone wanting to rig them. Besides, tinkering with tens of thousands of EVMs would involve more than one or two persons, making it impossible for the intended heist to remain a secret.

Meanwhile, having stolen a march in electronic transfer of money through the Unified Payments Interface, a crowning glory of the Modi government, the idea of voting through some such software ought to be explored seriously. The important thing is that transparency of such a process must remain paramount. Given that more than half a billion Indians now have smart phones, voting through these is not as hare-brained as it may sound to some people, certainly to those who robotically question the trustworthiness of EVMs. Ordinary voters have long come to have faith in the EVMs. Shattering their faith will detract from the democratic process itself. Let visceral doubters and distrusters not mar our excellent voting system.

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