The trend of questioning EVMs was actually started by the BJP when veteran leader LK Advani demanded reintroduction of ballot papers for Maharashtra Assembly polls in 2009
With the Election Commission of India announcing poll dates on March 10, the country has shifted gear into election mode.
Not only political parties, but roughly 90 crore eligible electors are all set to take part in the crucial Lok Sabha polls, slated to take place over seven phases. Out of the 90 crore voters, roughly 1.5 crore will be voting for the first time.
Along with the dates, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced that 10 lakh polling stations will be set up and that VVPAT machines will be used in all polling stations this time.
Let’s take a look at what these machines are and how they are different than the EVM machines and the conventional ballot papers.
What are VVPAT machines?
VVPAt stands for Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. It is an independent system attached with the electronic voter machine (EVM) that allows the voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended.
How does it work?
When a vote is cast, a slip is printed on the VVPAT printer containing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate and remains exposed through a transparent window for 7 seconds. Thereafter, this printed slip automatically gets cut and falls in sealed drop box of the VVPAT.
What does it look like?
The VVPAT consists of a printer and a VVPAT Status Display Unit (VSDU). It runs on a battery of 22.5 volts. The control unit and VSDU are kept with the Presiding Officer/Polling Officer and balloting unit and printer are kept in the voting compartment.
Why was the VVPAT machine commissioned by the EC?
In a meeting of all political parties conducted in October 2010, most parties had expressed their satisfaction with the functioning of the EVM. However, some parties appealed that VVPAT machines be introduced for more transparency and accountability in the polling process.
Is there something wrong with EVMs?
The Opposition has, time and again, accused the ruling BJP of tampering with EVMs in order to win the elections. This happened especially in the aftermath of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections where the saffron party won with a landslide victory. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav accused the BJP of rigging EVMs.
They were soon joined by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convener Arvind Kejriwal, who blamed EVM tampering for its loss in the Punjab and Goa Assembly polls held the same year.
However, the trend of questioning EVMs was actually started by the BJP with veteran leader LK Advani demanding reintroduction of ballot papers for the Maharashtra Assembly polls in 2009. At that time, Advani was the Leader of Opposition. He said, "We should revert to ballot papers unless the Election Commission is able to ensure that EVMs are foolproof and every possibility of their malfunctioning is taken care of."
In fact, the decision to adopt VVPATs in 2010 was taken in the wake of BJP’s campaign against EVMs in 2009.
VVPAT vs EVM vs ballot papers
In 2013, the Supreme Court had lauded the Election Commission’s decision of adopting VVPAT machines for conducting free and fair elections, directing the Centre to ensure adequate funds for procuring these machines for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Since 2015, all state assembly elections have been conducted using VVPAT machines.
As far as EVMs are concerned, the polling body has never conceded that they can be hacked or tampered with despite a multitude of claims by the Opposition and apparent cyber experts. So sure was the Election Commission that EVMs are non-corruptible and tamper-proof, they had thrown an open challenge to political parties to rig them.
At least 16 Opposition parties had demanded returning to the ballot papers, yet the Election Commission has rejected it outright.
What are other democracies using?
Out of the 120 countries that practise democracy, a little over 20 use EVMs. Britain, which is regarded as the mother of all democracies, relies on Ballot paper to elect 650 MPs to the House of Commons. The US, on the other hand, uses a combination of direct voting machines (different to EVMs, in that they are connected to the internet and are more vulnerable to cyber attack) and paper trail audit machines (similar to VVPAT).Brazil, the fifth most populous country, has been successfully using the EVMs on a large scale since 1990.