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Dealing with EVMs

Representatives of parties including Congress, BSP, DMK, Trinamool Congress and the Left met top officials of the Election Commission of India to demand reintroduction of the ballot paper system.

Dealing with EVMs

Earlier this week, sixteen opposition parties urged the Election Commission to revert to the paper ballot system, claiming the faith of the people in the electronic voting machines (EVMs) has "eroded". Representatives of parties including Congress, BSP, DMK, Trinamool Congress and the Left met top officials of the Election Commission of India to demand reintroduction of the ballot paper system.

On Wednesday, however, senior Congress leader Veerapa Moily criticised his party for taking such a position on the subject and added that there is no question of going back to manual methods. Opposition parties, from Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have recently made a hue and cry about how EVMs are being manipulated on a massive scale, endangering democracy and delivering victories to the Bharatiya Janata Party. As proof, they point to media reports circulating that seem to show EVMs registering a vote for the BJP no matter what button is pressed on the machine.

The veracity of these stories is still under a cloud of doubt. Nonetheless, these are serious allegations because the very premise of a democratic system of government rests on the idea of free and fair elections. Globally, scepticism about electronic voting methods is widespread. Most countries have rejected the practice for paper ballots and in some instances an accompanying paper trail. Many European countries and American states found that electronic voting machines are vulnerable to hacks and manipulation.

At the very least, electronic voting methods can sometimes present an inaccurate picture of electoral outcomes. However, the demand for a return to paper ballots would be difficult primarily because of the sheer costs and logistical issues involved—their printing, storage and transportation, and their safe storage between elections--not to mention booth capturing. In big states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh one also has to confront the problem of scale, as lakhs of ballot boxes are required.

In a bid to quell all doubts, experts have called for an early rollout of voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines in all polling stations across the country. Many experts have argued for a paper trail accompanying the electronic voting process, which confirms that the votes have been cast correctly. The Election Commission of India has roundly debunked allegations of tampering, caming out with an "open challenge" to anybody to hack its EVMs in the first week of May. This is unprecedented although it should be welcomed as it allows for an honest public discussion on the subject of poll tampering.

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