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Electoral transparency, paper trails

Electoral transparency, paper trails
The Bharatiya Janata Party's stunning victory in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections elicited both praise and suspicion. There was praise for the margin of victory, and the overwhelming mandate Prime Minister Narendra Modi received. Arguably the biggest loser in these elections was the Bahujan Samaj Party, which won less than 5% of the state's 403 constituencies. By any measure, this was an abject performance for a party that had held the keys to state power on four different occasions, most recently till 2012. In response to these dismal results, BSP chief Mayawati cried foul. She alleged that the electronic voting machines (EVMs) might have been hacked to skew the results.

Allegations of wholesale rigging of an election in India are indeed unprecedented. On March 15, even Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal alleged that more than 20% of the votes cast for his party might have been "transferred" to the Shiromani Akali Dali-BJP alliance in the state. For the uninitiated, the party suffered a rout of sorts in a state, where it had expected to form the next government. AAP's low tally of 20 seats is "beyond understanding" and raises a "big question mark" on the reliability of EVMs, the Delhi Chief Minister said. On the day before, he had written to the Delhi Chief Secretary directing him to approach the state election commission with the request to hold the upcoming municipal polls in the national capital using ballot papers.

The Election Commission of India has dismissed these claims. It also listed a series of mechanical and electronic measures it takes to prevent tampering of the EVM. But these are serious allegations because the very premise of a democratic system of government rests on the idea of free and fair elections. This is not the first time that the EVM system has been subject to such allegations. In his book, Democracy at Risk, GVL Narasimha Rao, who is also currently the national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party, spoke of "the distrust among political leaders of all hues in voting machines". "It is about time India shunned paperless voting to make its election outcomes verifiable and auditable," he said. In other words, Narasimha Rao argues that the electronic voting mechanism is not transparent and accountable.

On March 15, even Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal alleged that more than 20% of the votes cast for his party might have been "transferred" to the Shiromani Akali Dali-BJP alliance in the state. For the uninitiated, the party suffered a rout of sorts in a state, where it had expected to form the next government. AAP's low tally of 20 seats is "beyond understanding" and raises a "big question mark" on the reliability of EVMs, the Delhi Chief Minister said. On the day before, he had written to the Delhi Chief Secretary directing him to approach the state election commission with the request to hold the upcoming municipal polls in the national capital using ballot papers.

The Election Commission of India has dismissed these claims. It also listed a series of mechanical and electronic measures it takes to prevent tampering of the EVM. But these are serious allegations because the very premise of a democratic system of government rests on the idea of free and fair elections. This is not the first time that the EVM system has been subject to such allegations. In his book, Democracy at Risk, GVL Narasimha Rao, who is also currently the national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party, spoke of "the distrust among political leaders of all hues in voting machines". "It is about time India shunned paperless voting to make its election outcomes verifiable and auditable," he said. In other words, Narasimha Rao argues that the electronic voting mechanism is not transparent and accountable.

The Election Commission of India has dismissed these claims. It also listed a series of mechanical and electronic measures it takes to prevent tampering of the EVM. But these are serious allegations because the very premise of a democratic system of government rests on the idea of free and fair elections. This is not the first time that the EVM system has been subject to such allegations. In his book, Democracy at Risk, GVL Narasimha Rao, who is also currently the national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party, spoke of "the distrust among political leaders of all hues in voting machines". "It is about time India shunned paperless voting to make its election outcomes verifiable and auditable," he said. In other words, Narasimha Rao argues that the electronic voting mechanism is not transparent and accountable.

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, demands for a return to paper ballots are shortsighted 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 a state like Uttar Pradesh, however, one also has to confront the problem of scale, as lakhs of ballot boxes are required. Many constitutional experts, including senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, have argued for a paper trail accompanying the electronic voting process, which confirms that the votes have been cast correctly. After an election, officials can tally electronically counted votes against paper records, thereby enhancing transparency in the system. In fact, the Supreme Court in 2012 directed the EC to upgrade the EVMs to include a paper trail. "From the materials placed by both the sides, we are satisfied that the "paper trail" is an indispensable requirement for free and fair elections. The confidence of the voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of the "paper trail". EVMs with VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail) system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With intent to have

Many constitutional experts, including senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, have argued for a paper trail accompanying the electronic voting process, which confirms that the votes have been cast correctly. After an election, officials can tally electronically counted votes against paper records, thereby enhancing transparency in the system. In fact, the Supreme Court in 2012 directed the EC to upgrade the EVMs to include a paper trail. "From the materials placed by both the sides, we are satisfied that the "paper trail" is an indispensable requirement for free and fair elections. The confidence of the voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of the "paper trail". EVMs with VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail) system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With intent to have

Many constitutional experts, including senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, have argued for a paper trail accompanying the electronic voting process, which confirms that the votes have been cast correctly. After an election, officials can tally electronically counted votes against paper records, thereby enhancing transparency in the system. In fact, the Supreme Court in 2012 directed the EC to upgrade the EVMs to include a paper trail. "From the materials placed by both the sides, we are satisfied that the "paper trail" is an indispensable requirement for free and fair elections. The confidence of the voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of the "paper trail". EVMs with VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail) system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With intent to have

The confidence of the voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of the "paper trail". EVMs with VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail) system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system because vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in a democratic system," the court said. The Election Commission has taken up the matter. Last year, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi announced that polling for 2019 general elections would be conducted through paper trail-based electronic voting machines to "enhance transparency".

While it is perfectly right to be on guard concerning EVMs and their security, it is unfortunate that such allegations did not arrive when the United Progressive Alliance won a second term in 2009, or when the Congress or its allies were in power in most states. Instead of merely blaming EVMs, opposition parties should start asking people why they voted for the BJP. Understand what they want. Work towards fulfilling their dreams. If there's one thing India can be immensely proud of, it is the conduct of regular elections that are largely free and fair.
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