On Monday, representatives of 16 Opposition parties met top Election Commission (EC) officials to demand a return to the paper ballot system as opposed to the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) that the EC is keen on making the standard mode of recording votes cast during elections for the entire country. The government and the EC have the one logical argument of numbers in seeking to use only EVMs all over India as soon as the change can be effected. Those who are opposed to the use of EVMs argue that there have been cases of malfunctioning of EVMs on some occasions, and that this cannot be countenced in general elections. In fact, people whose electoral choices were affected by malfunctioning EVMs are sorely disappointed that they could not play their part in electing their representatives in the world’s largest democracy just due to the malfunctioning of an EVM. The other major objection to the use of EVMs is that the promised VVPAT (paper trail proof of voting) for a particular candidate is not available in all polling centres where EVMs are in use. This was quite evident during the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. However, the 16 Opposition parties that met the EC officials on Monday have another reason for demanding a return to paper ballots—a reason that they did not articulate to the EC officials. It is the fear that EVMs can be tampered with and might have been tampered with during the recent Assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh. There are two reasons for this fear. One is that in the latest Assembly elections of Uttar Pradesh the BJP had a rather unexpected level success in winning about three-fourths of the Assembly seats. The BJP had not had such a landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh for quite some time. The second reason is that soon after the Assembly elections of UP, there was a test of a random sampling of EVMs. In two of the EVMs tested, regardless of which button was pressed, the vote recorded was for the BJP. This seems to have scared most of the Opposition political parties. We are not aware of whether this malfunctioning has embarrassed the BJP. In any case, the 16 Opposition political parties have demanded that the Election Commission dispel their apprehensions about the total dependability of EVMs and that the EC opt for simultaneous use of the VVPAT and the ballot paper in 50 per cent of the constituencies each for elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh slated later this year. However, the real demand seems to be that EVMs be dispensed with altogether, and the country revert to the use of paper ballots alone.
We are of the view that paper ballots are far more reliable and error-free than EVMs. It is not surprising, therefore, that several advanced countries of Europe as well as the USA have chosen to remain with paper ballots. They have also disproved that the counting of paper ballots is a very time-consuming process. In many countries that continue to use paper ballots, the election results seem to come faster than in countries using EVMs. What is indeed surprising in the entire business of Opposition political parties opposing EVMs at this stage is that a political party like the Indian tiol Congress which did nothing at all to discontinue the use of EVMs during the UPA government’s 10-year tenure, should now be so vocal about the need for India to go back to paper ballots. The obvious question that arises is: What prevented the Congress from taking the necessary steps to abolish EVMs when it was in power but did not even raise the issue of reverting to paper ballots? Are people to infer that the Congress took full advantage of the errors emating from the use of faulty EVMs that went in favour of the party, as long as the Congress was in power?