An all-party meeting was held today at the Election Commission of India’s Nirvachan Sadan to discuss electronic voting machines (EVMs) besides many other issues requiring electoral reform.
In the morning, all national parties including the Congress, CPM, CPI, BSP and NCP have in principle endorsed the BJP’s view articulated by its senior party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad that the Election Commission shall examine provision of a paper back up for the EVMs in the form of a physical print out of every vote for the voters as an acknowledgement that their vote has been recorded properly. (See the following report)
And, in the afternoon, leaders of a large number of state political parties have endorsed a specific model of a “printer attached with the ballot unit of an EVM” presented by TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu in a power point presentation to provide paper trail for the EVMs.
As per Naidu’s design, each ballot printout comprising the party symbol will be printed with a unique randomly generated number or a serial number. It will only be visible to the voter behind a glass window and cannot be removed from the polling station. The vote gets dropped into a ballot box after it is verified by the voter for its accuracy. In case there is discrepancy in the printed vote, the voter will notify the presiding officer and he/ she will be allowed to vote on a paper ballot as a tendered vote. At the time of counting, such wrongly printed votes will be cancelled and tendered vote counted. Similar procedure is being followed at present in case of tendered votes.
Election Commission of India too endorsed the unanimous view of all the participants that the proposals made by Naidu merited proper examination and attention. The ECI has promised to have the issue examined by a technical expert Committee.
The all-party meeting on electoral reforms saw almost all parties and the ECI agreeing to the need for reform in EVMs. Almost all of them also agreed with the idea of physical proof of voting in the form of paper trail
No other issue exercised the Election Commission of India (ECI) in the past few months as much as the subject of electronic voting machines (EVMs). Last year, when several top political leaders and activists raised concerns regarding EVMs, the ECI brushed them as unwarranted apprehensions.
But as the months went by, the ECI has realized, albeit tacitly and somewhat grudgingly, that the EVM reform is not only required and is perhaps inevitable. The all-party meeting convened by the ECI on October 4 in which the EVMs were discussed at great length is indicative of this recognition.
Let me cite a few changes that the ECI has made in its administrative guidelines of the use of EVMs over the past six months in support of the above assessment.
On May 3, 2010, the ECI has issued elaborate guidelines for Storage and Safety arrangement of EVMs and improved record keeping. The ECI has directed that a committee consisting of district officials be directed to carry out 100% physical verification of EVMs to prepare a Master Stock Register (MSR) and issued instructions for safe storage of EVMs.
On August 4, 2010, the ECI has directed the EVM manufacturers that the First Level Checking (FLC) shall be done in the presence of representatives of political parties by authorized engineers who will also certify that all the parts are original. The Commission has directed that at least 1000 votes shall be polled during the mock poll in 10% percent of EVMs and a printout of the results of mock poll be taken out and shown to the representatives of political parties.
On September 3, the ECI has issued fresh guidelines for preparation of EVMs during elections. These guidelines are similar to the FLC guidelines and mandate extensive mock polls and printouts being taken out to verify results.
The above changes are a direct result of the vulnerability demonstration that has been carried out by Hari Prasad, Alex Halderman, Rop Gonggrijp and their associates. The ECI owes gratitude to the team of experts for highlighting its vulnerabilities.
The Road Ahead
If the ECI’s attitude at the all-party meeting is any indication, significant changes aimed at EVM reform can be expected. The EVMs would continue to cause concerns until they are perceived to be transparent by voters and allow verification of election results by those expressing any doubts about the election outcome.
Towards this end, the ECI would do well to engage all stakeholders in a dialogue. The Commission has made a good beginning by discuss the EVMs at the all-party meeting convened by it. It is to be hoped that the all-party meeting marks a beginning in this dialogue process. The tenor of the discussions at the all-party meeting made many participants feel that the ECI has an open mind on EVM reform. How far that assessment is correct would become clear in the coming weeks as the ECI follows up these commitments with specific actions.
I can be reached at nrao@indianEVM.com