March 13, 2017

Paper trail needed to deter manipulation of electronic voting machines

It is a no-brainer that a vital thing in a Democracy like an Election should be as much as fool-proof as possible.

So, if you have electronic voting machines being used in an Election, you must have the system give a small printout to the voter which will give him/her the vote he/she cast and another printout must be kept with the electoral office.

In case of recounting of electronic votes, the votes in the paper printouts have to tally with the electronic votes.

It is not enough for the Election Commission, the authority which conducts the elections, to ensure that EVMs are physically secured after voting. It is equally important that remote control of EVMs is eliminated and one of the ways to esnure this is for the Election Commission to make public on its website the details of the manufacturer and maintenance company of EVMs. The Election Commission should also employ techies to monitor whether EVMs are being remotely controlled before an election and between an election date and the election results date.

In a blog post in 8 years ago in April 2009, I had highlighted the issues surrounding the EVMs. In that post,, I wrote "One quick thought on the election process. The last 2-3 elections has been through electronic voting machines. Today, for instance, I pressed the button against Kalyan Galphade's name and that was that. My vote was cast. Now, all this is cool. But it only makes it convenient for a voter to cast his/her vote. What about safety against rigging?
We saw how Bush and his team rigged the electronic machines in some states in the US presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. The same thing can happen in India...To prevent it, a unique numbered printed receipt should be issued to each voter with a copy kept in Election Commission's files. If there is a dispute then the recounting can cross check with the printed receipts. Rigging normally happens such that no matter against which candidate you click the button the machine will register your vote against the candidate in favour of whom the machine would be rigged/programmed to do so."

Below are some examples of how the risk of fraud in Elections can happen and how fraud may be already taking place in some elections.

Are EVMs really fool-proof? The recent Maharasthra civic body polls show this may not be the case. (Rhythum Seth/The Quint)
Not Just Mayawati, ‘EVM Fraud’ Also Reared Head During Maha Polls
Ashish Dikshit
March 11, 2017, 7:18 pm

Refusing to concede her rout in UP elections, Mayawati has accused the BJP of tampering with the EVMs (electronic voting machines). She didn’t stop there. In a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner of India, the BSP chief has demanded fresh polls with the use of ballot papers. SP’s Akhilesh Yadav, too, has echoed her views.

Something similar (something worse, even) had unfolded in Maharashtra a few weeks ago. As counting for the local body polls in Maharashtra drew to a close on the evening of 23 February, news channels began to flash an unexpected development.

Violence erupted in Panchavati, in the heart of Nashik city, following complaints of tampering of EVMs. The city BJP chief’s son was declared the winner from the ward, but the Shiv Sena claimed that the total of the votes received by each candidate exceeded the total number of votes cast.

    This led to clashes between Shiv Sena and BJP workers in the streets. Soon, mobs began vandalising and burning vehicles. Police had to resort to lathi-charge and firing in the air to disperse the crowd of 800 people. Nine policemen, as well as some local residents, were injured in the rampage.

A similar charge of EVM fraud swirled in Pune, only the reaction was thankfully non-violent. In Yerawada ward, 15 candidates from different political parties registered a complaint against the Returning Officer (RO), alleging “misappropriation” of EVMs during the counting of votes.

They claimed that a total of 33,289 votes were cast, but 43,324 votes were counted. They demanded a re-poll using ballot paper. A police complaint was registered against the RO.

As the State Election Commission, which conducts local polls, turned down the demand for re-polling, a united opposition first held a protest meeting. As more cases emerged, they took out a mock funeral procession of replicas of EVMs on Tuesday, which were then symbolically cremated at the Vaikunth crematorium.

Defeated candidates from all parties participated in this unusual protest; many of them had shocking stories to share.

    I was announced as the winner and given the official letter under Section 149 (of the Representation of Peoples Act). Then we were asked to leave. But when we began our victory march, after about an hour, we were told that votes from one EVM were yet to be counted. And then suddenly, the BJP candidate was declared the winner.

Manisha Mohite, NCP Candidate, Pune

BJP MP Sanjay Kakde, who played a crucial role in getting criminals into the BJP fold, had accurately predicted the results for Pune. He had vowed to give up politics if his prediction proved wrong. Opposition parties now cite this claim as proof that the ruling party had manipulated the poll results.
“How Can I Get Zero Votes?”

In Mumbai, independent candidate Shrikant Shirsat got zero votes at the booth near his residence in Saki Naka in the western suburbs.

    I voted for myself, so did my family and neighbours. The EVM has to be defective. How else can I get zero votes?

Shrikant Shirsat, Independent Candidate, Mumbai

Similar complaints are being reported from various parts of the state. Efforts are being made to collate data. A body called the Lokshahi Bachao Andolan has been formed in Nashik to collect data related to alleged tampering of EVMs.

Along with Nashik, Pune and Amravati, a protest march was organised in Kolhapur too. Former High Court judge and social activist BG Kolse Patil is now trying to unite all these protesters and launch a state-wide agitation.

    Going by Modi and Shah’s past, I strongly feel they may have manipulated the machines. Many scams (relating to EVM fraud) are now emerging. So, I’ve decided to launch a protest against them. We want paper trail machines. If that doesn’t happen, we should go back to ballot paper.

BG Kolse Patil, Former HC Judge and Social Activist

The paper trail which Kolse Patil is referring to is an idea the Election Commission of India is experimenting with. It’s officially called the ‘voter-verified paper audit trail’ or VVPAT, wherein a voter immediately gets a printout of his vote. This has to then be put into the ballot box. So, every voter gets to see that his or her vote is rightly registered and in case of recounting, the printouts can be counted.

    The Election Commission tried out VVPAT machines in 8 Lok Sabha constituencies in 2014. This happened after the Delhi High Court ruled in 2012 that EVMs in the present form “are not tamper-proof” and the Supreme Court ordered the Commission to use VVPATs along with EVMs by 2019.

But the Election Commission is likely to miss the 2019 deadline, according to BJP MP Kirit Somaiya, who had led an anti-EVM movement when Congress was in power. He had said that “EVMs can be easily tampered with, manipulated as well as hacked”. But after the BJP came to power in 2014, his stance has changed completely and he finds nothing wrong in the system anymore.

    The process of replacing old EVMs with VVPAT machines has started. The Modi government has allotted Rs 5,000 crore for it, but it will take 10-12 years to replace all machines. Improvement is a continuous process and it takes time. (Shiv Sena chief) Uddhav Thackeray and (NCP boss) Sharad Pawar are making allegations as they have vested interests. If they think there’s an EVM scam, all their elected representative should first resign.

Although the BJP is happy with the system today, before 2014, it would complain of misuse and malfunctioning of EVMs. In fact, Somaiya and Devendra Fadnavis, who is now Maharashtra CM, were present at an anti-EVM event in 2010, where Hyderabad techie Hari Prasad had demonstrated how easily an EVM can be manually manipulated at various stages.

Hari Prasad was later arrested for stealing EVMs from the collector’s office in Mumbai. The police officer who had handled this case recently told MaxMaharashtra:

    Today, a lot of allegations are being made (against the BJP). When Congress was in power, the BJP had made the same allegations. In our democracy, the priorities of political parties change with time… I feel enraged.

Sanjeev Kokil, Retired Police Officer
In 2010, Hyderabad techie Hari Prasad (centre) had demonstrated how easily an EVM can be manipulated. (Photo Courtesy:

The State Election Commission has maintained that the entire election process was transparent and foolproof. Talking to The Quint, Maharashtra State Election Commissioner JS Saharia admits that there are various issues involved in acquiring paper trail machines.

    The Supreme Court has said that the VVPAT system has to be implemented only in stages. Even the Election Commission of India has tried it out only on an experimental basis. There are a large number of issues, including supply and finance. We will implement it as per the order of the SC.

JS Saharia, Maharashtra State Election Commissioner

When asked about the protests in Pune, Nashik, Kolhapur and Amravati, he ruled out any possibility of re-polling anywhere in the state.

    We take proper care. Machines are sealed in the presence of polling agents. There is no possibility of tampering with the machines at all. In any case, they are tamper-proof. The complainants have only expressed suspicion. If anyone comes with proof, we will definitely probe that. There is no system of re-polling as results have been declared.

The defeated candidates in Pune, Nashik and Mumbai have announced that they will move the High Court against the “EVM scam”.

Once the matter reaches the HC, the Election Commission as well as the Centre will likely have to inform the court about the progress on introducing the paper trail (VVPAT) machines. For, the court of the land is already convinced that the present EVM-based system cannot be called foolproof unless a paper trail is added to it.

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