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Keeping a trail

Keeping a trail
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After giving voters None of The Above (NOTA) option for rejecting all the candidates if they do not think any of the candidates deserved to become lawmakers, the Election Commission would provide another important tool to the voters in the form of paper trail, which would give voters a convincing proof of having voted for his/her choice of candidate. The name of the tool is Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system.

VVPAT is a system of a printing paper trail when the voter casts his vote, in addition to the electronic record of the ballot, for the purpose of verification of his choice of candidate and also for manual counting of votes in case of dispute.

The Election Commission, on the direction of the Supreme Court, has decided to incorporate a system of ‘paper trail/paper receipt’ in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) as a convincing proof that the EVM has rightly registered the vote cast by a voter in favour of a particular candidate in the upcoming assembly elections as well as the genral elections scheduled to be held next year.
Under the procedure, after a voter casts his/her vote, he/she will get a printout showing the candidate he/she voted for. She will not be allowed to take this printout back because of secrecy issues. These receipts would be kept in a box to ensure the secrecy. The paper slips of VVPAT shall not be counted normally except in case the returning officer decides to count them on an application submitted by any of the candidates.

It is being said that the system will bring more accuracy in the present system and if a particular election is challenged on the ground that any particular voter’s vote or the votes of a group of voters have been suppressed/have not been correctly assigned by the EVMs, the accepted current procedure is set for a re-run of the same EVMs for a re-count.

Under the new procedure, a re-count of the receipts that the EVMs had issued to the voter at the time of polling would be conducted thereby ensuring more transparency in the process.

Supporters of paper trail also say that in the present system of voting through EVMs, there is no such facility through which a voter can verify and confirm his own voting. At present, a voter presses a button only but cannot ascertain the actual voting. He is not sure whether his vote is recorded or not, if recorded, whether it is recorded in favour of the person to whom it was intended for or not.
Whether it is valid or invalid and whether it is counted or not. He said that unless and until answers to these questions are personally seen by the voter, it cannot be said that vote has been cast by him because ‘pressing a button of choice and getting flashed the red-light’ is not exactly voting in real sense, unless the voter knows well that what has happened in consequence of pressing a button of his choice from the EVMs.

The Supreme Court gave the verdict on the petition of senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy. He had argued that the present system of EVMs, as utilised in the last few general elections in India, does not meet all the requirements of the international standards and though the ECI maintains that the EVMs cannot be tampered with, but the fact is that EVMs, like all electronic equipment, are open to hacking. He had approached the court after refusal of the ECI to incorporate a certain obvious safeguard in the EVMs called ‘paper backup’, ‘paper receipt’ or ‘paper trail’, presently in use and mandated in some countries like USA, which would easily and cheaply meet the requirement of proof that the EVM has rightly registered the vote cast by a voter.
He had said that the ‘paper trail’ system is to supplement the procedure of voting as in this procedure, after recording a vote in the EVM, a print out will come out which will ensure the voter that his vote has been rightly registered and the same will be deposited in a box which can only be used by the ECI in case of election dispute.

Contending that its system was foolproof and has got praise from various parts of the world for conducting such enormous elections in India, the Election Commission also kept moving on to make the present system more transparent. It started trial for possibility of incorporating a VVPAT system as a part of the presently used EVMs to make the election system more transparent.  It, on experimental basis, used the system in some election and results were good. The Commission was doing things needed to implement it, like writing to the government for changes in some laws in this regard and financial burden that incorporating this system was going to do on it. And the order from the Supreme Court removed all hurdles in the implementation of paper trail.

‘We are satisfied that the paper trail is an indispensable requirement of 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 system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With an 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 democratic system.

In the light of the above discussion and taking notice of the pragmatic and reasonable approach of the ECI and considering the fact that in general elections all over India, the ECI has to handle one million (ten lakhs) polling booths, we permit the ECI to introduce the same in gradual stages or geographical-wise in the ensuing general elections. The area, State or actual booth(s) are to be decided by the ECI and the ECI is free to implement the same in a phased manner, the apex court had said directing the Government of India to provide required financial assistance for procurement of units of VVPAT for implementation of such a system in a phased manner.’
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