For Democracy’s Sake
Debate over the possibility of tampering the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) has started again after lapses in handling of the appliances were reported in the ongoing state assembly elections. It first happened in Assam where an EMV was found in a private vehicle belonging to the spouse of a BJP candidate just hours after voting ended on April 1, prompting the Election Commission to suspend six officers and order repoll for one polling station. This incident was followed by another one in West Bengal where four EVM and VVPAT machines were found outside the house of a TMC leader. While stating that the devices were reserve ones and not used for the polls, the Election Commission suspended a polling official in connection with the incident. That was not all, two persons were caught carrying EVMs on a motorbike in poll-bound Chennai. In this case too, the election officials said the devices were reserve units and not used for polling while assuring strict action on those found violating the SOP in handling the EVMs.
The Election Commission did what it should by taking immediate action against those responsible for the lapse but considering the fact that similar incidents had happened in the past- during Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Assembly elections in 2018, it is necessary to come up with a mechanism to stop such lapses from recurring once and for all. This is vital as EVM has earned so much mistrust over the last few years though it was introduced on a wide scale phase wise manner during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Several political parties had in the past demanded reverting to ballot paper system, alleging that the electronic device could be manipulated to rig elections. The allegation forced the Election Commission in 2017 to challenge political parties to prove that the machines could be tampered with, after which the issue was closed. So, letting the recent incidents take place in poll-bound states was simply asking for trouble besides giving room to inflict more distrust.
The Election Commission’s protocol states that EVMs, both polled and reserve cannot be taken into private custody or in a private vehicle under any circumstances and doing so amounts to violation of the commission’s rule. Such devices should always be under the cover of the police. So, excuses like transportation or accommodation issues for taking voting machines to private locations should not be entertained. Even if tampering of voting machines is remotely possible, the slightest lapse could open up old wounds. So, the sooner authorities address the loopholes associated with the handling of EVMs the better as India can’t go back to erstwhile paper ballot system for several reasons like cost, logistics, storage and even manpower required to conduct general as well as state assembly elections. The Election Commission should uphold the high standards it has set for itself and not give room for the Doubting Thomases to question the efficacy of EVM which has become an indispensable part of our electoral system.