Millennium Post

Bracing democracy with paper trails

In a development that augers well for Indian democracy, the Election Commission is all set to launch the paper trail system for electronic voting machines (EVMs). Given the ubiquity and convenience of EVMs, these are not likely to be out of the Indian electoral scene in the future. However, questions have been raised about them. The voter verifiable paper audit trail, which has been approved by a technical expert committee, ensures that a paper strip would be visible to the voter alone only for a few seconds, confirming the vote. This is an important technological innovation as it may help vitiate electoral fraud which many claim EVMs are susceptible to. Doubts have been cast on the reliability of EVMs in their present form by many in politics, particularly those on the losing side. It has been suggested that the Indian EVMs could easily be hacked into and a chip with a Trojan inside could be inserted into them without difficulty and within two minutes. Such a chip could then manipulate results and display false readings, thereby distorting the results in the elections. A large number of people outside the ambit and control of the Election Commission have access to EVMs at different stages: the manufacturing companies; the foreign companies that supply micro controllers; and the private players involved in the maintenance of the EVMs. Therefore, it has been contended, these machines are vulnerable to tampering.

There are other problems with EVMs, which have become apparent even as many other countries have experimented with EVMs.  Not all of them have had a positive experience. Germany’s Supreme Court has ruled that e-voting was unconstitutional because the average citizen could not be expected to understand the exact steps involved in the recording and tallying of votes. Netherlands banned the voting machines on the grounds of lack of transparency and risk of eavesdropping. The provision of a paper trail in EVMs may provide a proof in paper of the voting pattern which could also be verified by the voter at the time of casting the vote. This addresses quite a few of the objections raised against EVMs. In the event of a dispute about the result, it may be possible to hand count the paper ballots to verify it. If EVMs are not to be dumped then creating a paper trail for them may be the best way of safeguarding elections and ensuring that they remain free and fair.
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