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Is Banning EVM the solution? Should India Follow The West?

It is accentuated by the recent news from many western nations doubting the integrity of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and bringing back the 'old-fashioned ballot system'.

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Political leaders who lost the recent state elections - Mayawati and Harish Rawat among them have alleged the electronic voting machines were tampered with. Arvind Kejriwal too questioned the use of the electronic method of gathering votes. Now, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi also seem to be indulging in the theory.

Is there a possibility of rigging electoral outcomes in a general election to the Lok Sabha? This question has arisen not only because of the unexpected number of seats won or lost by some parties in the recent contest. It is accentuated by the recent news from many western nations doubting the integrity of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and bringing back the 'old-fashioned ballot system'.

Let's look at the situation from a different angle. What is our idea of democracy based on? (1) Free and fair elections (2) Equal voting rights (3) Right to represent ourselves. Well, these and others would only stand straight if the vote gathering process is transparent enough for the citizens to believe in it.

As digital consumers and users, we are not unwilling to accept this security risk in banking, shopping, and e-mailing, but we do understand that sanctity of the ballot box is sacred. It needs to be perfectly safeguarded because of the monumental consequence of a rigged or faulty vote recording.

Hence, a backlash against e-voting is brewing across the Europe and Western countries. Especially in US and Germany, though there are ways to avoid the fraud such as: (1) It can print a physical copy of each vote cast but it would defeat the whole purpose of saving time and effort through the electronic means. (2) To expose the EVMs and software to public scrutiny, but that would hurt the trade secrets of the software market leaders.

The electronic voting machines are easy to carry around and count votes on. However, various incidences all over the world prove that fraud and manipulations in the number of votes received by a candidate as well as hacking of the remote EVMs have been registered in the past and continue to be a major threat for this technological advance.

In light of all these negative points, there are various countries that have banned electronic voting or have a stringent law in place to check on the functioning of EVMs. Here is a list of countries that have banned or monitored the use of EVMs.

1. Germany: The EVMs have been prone to hacking and are declared as unfit for political use.
2. Netherlands: The country banned the use of EVMs stating that they lack transparency.
3. Ireland: Ireland spent 51 million pounds for three years first on installation, then it went forward and scrapped the EVMs citing it to lack of trust in the voting machine.
4. England: England is one of the few countries that has stayed away from the modern methods in political elections, and the government plans to continue on the same path.
5. France: Electronic voting was used in a national presidential primary in 2007. While the country has chosen to vote via the internet, EVMs have not been used in France. Elections in France utilised remote Internet voting for the first time in 2003, and this idea was made a custom in 2009 as people chose the internet voting system over paper.
6. Italy: Italy used Nedap Voting machines in the national elections, and did a pilot project to test the EVMs, the country chose to go back to paper as it is easy to manage and was cheaper.

While these countries have banned or refrained from using EVMs, there are others who have taken a systematic approach and backed the use of EVMs with paper ballots. For example in Venezuela EVMs are used on a large scale but are backed by paper trails of the votes. This simple step helps the government to regularise and check the authenticity of votes and avoid any discrepancies.

Well just in case you are thinking 'paper ballot' is the safest option, think again.

Paper ballots have inherent problems - their printing, storage and transportation involve huge expenditure; lakhs of ballot boxes are needed for each election, and there are logistics issues with their safe storage between elections. There were instances when the number of invalid votes (marked incorrectly by illiterate voters) exceeded the winning margin. Also, the counting of ballot papers could take a full day or more.

The election commission, however, had taken some steps forward when in 2009 also such a controversy arose. The Commission has said, "The comparisons between EVMs in India and abroad, fail to match because they run differently.

The commission said, "Most of the systems used in other countries are PC based and running on operating systems. Hence, these could be vulnerable to hacking.

The EVM in India, on the other hand, is a fully standalone machine without being part of any network and with no provision for any input. After casting one vote, the machine becomes dead to any signal. The next vote can be cast only when the presiding officer manually allows the control unit to function again for the machine to become responsive."

What to Expect out of the Controversy Now?
All political parties have criticised EVMs only when they have lost elections. Five days ahead of the Delhi Assembly election results in February 2015, Arvind Kejriwal had tweeted about possible tampering of EVMs. He did not pursue his allegation after the same EVMs registered a record mandate for his party, which won 67 out of 70 seats. It seems like a usual political move in the Indian scenario. The EVM are here to stay some time longer.



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