Another round of EVM debatetext_fields
A few days ago, there was a debate in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on electoral reform. Of late, at all forums of discussion about electoral process, the credibility of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) has kept coming up. The merit of EVM cited by the Election Commission and others concerned is that they make voting process more transparent and faster. But most of the times, the actual experience of ordinary voters is that such equipment contribute to making the electoral process more opaque and obscure. Allegations to substantiate this have been made several times by experts in the field and the matter has also been taken to court several times. In this context, the fact that EVM is being debated in a state's legislature should be welcomed. The discussions in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly went in that direction too. The subject was raised by senior Congress leader and former minister H.K. Patil. The core of his argument was that the lack of transparency in the electoral bonds and the doubts raised by the EVM were enough to subvert democracy itself. Patil asked the Speaker to issue a notice to the Election Commission to clarify the matter and allay the apprehensions of the common man. At the end of the discussion, the Speaker had to give in to the plea.
HK Patil's speech in the assembly was based on the investigations and interventions of RTI activist Manoranjan Roy in the manufacture and distribution of electronic voting machines. Bharat Electronics Limited (BHEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) are the two PSUs that manufacture EVMs. In 2017, under the Right to Information Act, Manoranjan asked these companies how many voting machines were built by them for the Election Commission in the 25 years from 1990. The companies' reply was Rs 19.6 lakh and Rs 19.4 lakh respectively. When he approached the Election Commission with the same question, he got a different reply: the contribution of ECIL was 10.1 lakh EVMs while BHEL provided 10 lakh machines. Apparently there is a big difference between the two replies. In other words, about 19 lakh machines allegedly manufactured by companies have apparently not reached the Election Commission. These 'missing' EVM machines will be enough to sabotage even the Lok Sabha elections. It was this realization that prompted Manoranjan to raise it before the Bombay High Court. The case has been pending since 2018. More than a dozen sittings have already taken place in the case, but the Election Commission has not given a clear response yet. In the interim period, the country has witnessed a number of crucial elections, including Lok Sabha elections. It is this indifference too that HK Patil has questioned.
Manoranjan' intervention served to bring up before the public the mysteries surrounding the production and distribution of EVM. At the same time, the use of EVMs is another issue that needs to be examined. The limitation of EVMs, even if they are transparent, is that the voter does not have the opportunity even to verify whether the vote he cast has been registered for the intended candidate. The voter can only blindly believe in the machine and put his finger on it. When this was raised as a deficiency, the Vivipat system was introduced However, even that has been shown to be a bigger scam than the previous, as contended by Kannan Gopinath - who quit the IAS in protest at the Modi government's anti - democratic policies. Vivipat contradicts the basic claim that the voting machine has no link with any external device. As a matter of fact, this mechanism will function effectively only if the ballot unit and control unit of the voting machine are connected to the Vivipat machine that prints the candidate's name and symbol. Then the candidate's name and symbols will have to be stored somewhere. And for that to happen, some one will have to feed such information. . The Commission's explanation is that it is the EVM manufacturers who upload the information. But to be read with this is that 19 lakh machines shipped by EVM manufacturers are not accounted for. In short, the use of EVM in the electoral process does cause concerns among democrats in many ways. This utterly opaque technology is distorting the image of elections which is at the heart of democracy. And hence the spate of questions on its use arising from many quarters. All those questions were being repeated in the Karnataka Assembly - and they are questions that champions of democracy need to take up.