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Is the EVM, Hacking People’s Faith in Indian Democracy? By Father Dr. Anand Muttungal

Sometime back responding to the American engineers’ claim of possibility of tampering with Indian Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), the BBC correspondent asked India’s Deputy Election Commissioner, Alok Shukla, about the possibility of hacking EVM, he said, ‘even getting hold of machines to tamper with would be very difficult. It is not just the machine, but the overall administrative safeguards which we use that make it absolutely impossible for anybody to open the machine.’ Even though he assures absolute security of EVMs, the credibility of the EVM has come under cloud once again. The Indian democracy is strongly founded on the fair electoral practices, so even if one Indian doubts its credibility, then the use of EVM is to be reconsidered. The question of tampering with EVM was an issue discussed quietly in the political circles after the earlier Assembly and Parliamentary elections, but the results of the five recently concluded elections have thrown a serious question about the working of the EVM machines’ and its possible manipulations.

It is good to know the historic developments of controversies regarding the use of EVMs. The reliability of the Electronic Voting Machine became an issue of serious concerns worldwide with the United States’ year 2000 contentious presidential election where the disputes reached the Supreme Court. As follow up of this many countries including US abandoned the use of electronic machine in voting. The process of voting is very simple and practical in all sense possible. It is to be noted that ever since India introduced EVM in 50 constituencies of Parur Assembly Constituency in Kerala in 1982, the legal battle against these machines reached Supreme Court. The SC ruled in 1984 that there is no legal sanctioning to conduct voting through EVMs therefore in 1989 section 61-A has been inserted in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 empowering the Commission to use voting machines too.

In 1990 the reliability of the EVM was questioned by majority of the political parties. Therefore the Parliament appointed Electoral Reforms Committee, which studied technicalities of EVM and cleared way for the use of EVM in elections. After this, the fundamental question of tampering with EVM machines reached the High Courts of Madras, Karnataka, Kerala and Delhi and the matter also came up in Supreme Court but after getting details from the designers and technicians of EVM, the Courts dismissed the petitions.

The last general elections have presented many miracles such as parties like BSP, DMK and Congress party failing to open account almost in seven states, the poor performance of parties like Communist parties, JDU, YSR, RJD, SP etc. and the extreme performance of AIDMK, TMC, BJD, LJP and BJP are some of them. There are also many media reports regarding the malfunctioning of EVMs. It has raised many questions in the minds technicians, leaders and intellectuals such as, can the EVM machine be controlled from elsewhere?, can the manufactures or technicians manipulate technologies to influence the voting against the will of the voter?, if not the political parties, can the corporate barons play a role with the EVM technology to get those parties elected to power whom they support?

We do not know whether there is an iota of truth in the doubts of people but as long as people believe that technology can be manipulated so long as the use of technology in voting will always remain a big question mark against the Indian democracy. Therefore we need to re-introduce the paper ballet voting systems. People around the world believe that it is fair, free and transparent. Transparency is maintained, any possible dispute regarding even a single vote can be sort out immediately to the utmost satisfaction of the voter and political parties. Each action of a poll duty officer can be monitored by the other officer. The observers can detect and report any error. This level of transparency and errorlessness is arguably as high in paper ballet voting. It is sure that it takes time for counting and transportation ballets or its preservation after counting but can we not develop technologies for the same? The strength of the democracy lays in the faith of people from its very process, so we need to seriously think of paper ballet voting once again for to strengthen our democracy.

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