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Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightEditorialchevron_rightThe persistence of...

The persistence of Election Commission


The statement by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora that use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in elections will stay,  is mainly aimed at ending debates and speculations in the matter. 

The dramatic disclosures in London a week ago by a cyber expert had raised doubts about EVMs.  The 'expert' Syed Shuja who made the disclosures,  alleged that BJP's big victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was with the help of fraud in EVMs,  but in the later elections for Delhi,  Rajasthan,  Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh assemblies it did not happen because it was possible to intercept the 'signals'.   Gopinath Munde and Gauri Lankesh were killed because they were aware about this,  and he himself sought asylum in the US because of a threat to his life,  he argued.  With this,  several Opposition parties have strongly repeated their demand for abolishing voting machines.  It was in the light of such demands too that Election Commission made its stand clear in connection with National Voters' Day.

When CEC said that the Commission cannot be bullied into scrapping EVMs,  it is not clear who was meant by him,  but the background for that is clear.  What Arora says is that voting machines cannot be hacked and what happens now is nothing but 'motivated slugfest'.  He also asserted that the era of ballot paper was one of problems in the conduct of polling and of delay in declaration of results,  and there cannot be a going back to that era.  If the intention behind this firm declaration by Election Commission is to put at rest all doubts and debates,  the fact is that that has not happened.   True, the allegtions and disclosures from London do not constitute definite evidence against EVMs,  and as long as Shuja is not able to prove his charges,  they will remain  mere allegations.   Equally true is that as long as the allegations are disproved via an impartial enquiry,  they will remain as allegations.

In any case,  those as-yet-unproved disclosures will not form sufficient basis for any crucial change of  policy regarding voting machines. All the same the apprehensions raised by them should be allayed through official measures.   There is no doubt that EVMs is way ahead in efficiency,  convenience and time saving.    However,  in a critical process of democracy such as elections, there is another factor that ranks above efficiency and saving of time, i.e. of credibility.  And it is not just with the 'expert's' allegations that the credibility of voting machimes has come to be held in doubt.

The Chief Election Commissioner points out that out of 1.76 lac machines only in seven places was any fault detected.  These which he calls 'faults' are defects detected during voting.  The suspicions about the fraud in voting figures after polling are outside this count of 'faults'.   Although  in June 2017,  the Commission challenged any one to prove hacking of machines,  political parties did not come forward to accept it.  Putting a challenge for such an operation at a definite date and time may be to the liking of those who conduct it,  but is hardly enough to erase doubts,  especially with the giant strides being made every day in software and hacking techniques.  The fact that several developed countries have decided not to use voting machines,  and many have abolished it after introducing it,  is not because of doubts about their efficiency or convenience,  but because credibility is of prime importance.   After all, countries who decided against voting machines like Germany,  Ireland and Netherlands are technologically much advanced.  

Polling, counting and declaring results  should not only be correct but also seen to be correct by the people.   Election Commission has not been able to convince the people about that,  and the Commission's response to the doubts have only served to strengthen them.  The reaction to Syed Shuja's allegations was not one of wisdom,  but of consternation.   When one threatens legal action against critics,  the latter may perhaps go quiet,  but it will heighten suspicions.   Even if we dismiss them as 'mudslinging', instead of rationally facing the issues raised,   mistrust will increase.   Transparency is the breath of credibility;  threat and scolding will create the feeling that something is being hidden.  In the case of ballot paper,  there are certain things the people can be sure of:  casting one's vote,  the fact of its secrecy and the fact that vote counting is in the credible presence of a party agent .   As the German court decreed in 2009,  voting machines fail on credibility in all the three counts.  The voter does not see his vote cast,  only the figure of total votes cast is made available later.   Although the 'Vivipat' machine does enable verifying whether one's vote has been recorded,  that does not solve the issue of non-transparency at counting stage.  The fool-proof nature of election machinery is at the core of democracy and ipso facto it should be credible, and seen to be credible.  Threatening those who raise doubts will only dent credibility.  In fact, each allegation raised should be used by Election Commission as an opportunity to enhance the flawlessness  of the electoral machinery and that will be the path of maturity.  Before deciding that it will never give up voting machines,  the Commission should be able to prove that machines are  beyond all doubts of any nature – not only that there is no fraud,  but even there is no room for fraud.   The stubbornness should not be to conduct election in any manner,  but to conduct it in an entirely free and credible manner.

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