After the latest round of assembly elections, some top political leaders who ended up on the losing side have suddenly become paranoid about electronic voting machines (EVMs). The first leader off the blocks was BSP supremo Mayawati, immediately after the Uttar Pradesh election results. As the scale of BSP’s disastrous defeat began to sink in, finishing a distant third with 19 seats in the 403-member House, far below even its 80 seats as opposition party in the outgoing House, Mayawati pointed to EVMs as the villain. “Either the EVMs did not accept votes other than BJP, or the votes of other parties have gone to BJP in the EVMs... Most votes in the Muslim majority constituencies have gone to BJP, (that) makes it evident that voting machines were manipulated,” she alleged. Her main grouse is that when the BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate in UP, how did it mage to pick up votes in overwhelmingly Muslim localities? Sadly, the same is the case with many dalit localities where BJP candidates did quite well. So cut up is Mayawati with this ‘murder of democracy’, that she has decided to move the court while her party will observe a ‘black day’ every month on the 11th, the date on which the UP results were announced. In another bizarre aside, she has said that the proof of BJP’s ‘dishonest victory’ is that BJP leaders including rendra Modi are all ‘wearing artificial smiles and the glow on their faces is missing’! Mayawati’s EVM phobia can be understood, particularly if one recollects that the BSP failed to win a single seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But what can one say about Arvind Kejriwal, AAP leader and Delhi CM, with his IIT background, when he talks on similar lines to trash EVMs? If Kejriwal is to be believed, one-fourth of votes cast in favour of AAP in Punjab ‘were diverted to the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine’. But what did the BJP gain from such tampering, when it was the Congress that won hands down in Punjab? The AAP leader’s convoluted logic hints that the “tampered EVMs” behaved differently at different states to ensure that UP and Uttarakhand went to the BJP where it was the challenger, while Punjab was bagged by the Congress to help the BJP get rid of the unpopular Akali Dal! Not surprisingly, many are now asking why Kejriwal went silent after AAP won a stunning 67 seats in Delhi in early 2015, having loudly complained against EVMs before the results.
Meanwhile, the Congress too, in perpetual denial and an increasingly bad loser, has advised the Election Commission to probe into EVM tampering charges. After Uttarakhand’s outgoing CM Harish Rawat lost in both the seats he contested and blamed EVMs for the debacle, Congress spokesperson Sushmita Dev said: “The EC’s first responsibility is the voters should have confidence that the vote cast by them reaches the person they want.” As for the Election Commission, it has already rejected Mayawati’s allegations, claiming that ‘elaborate technical and administrative safeguards’ are in place to ensure error-free functioning of EVMs. It has also pointed out that while opportunities have been offered earlier, ‘no one has been able to demonstrate to the commission that the EVM used in the country’s election process, can be manipulated or tampered with’. However, it can be safely said this is not the last we have heard on the matter, and that other sore losers will take out their frustrations on EVMs as a diversiory tactic. So should the country switch back to paper ballots, as Mayawati and Kejriwal are now demanding — with all the logistic hassles and vast expense in their printing, storage and transportation, the problem of votes rendered invalid because unlettered voters mark ballot papers incorrectly, and the long hours needed to count lakhs of ballot papers? Those against EVMs point to countries like Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands and several states in the US that have banned the use of EVMs in elections. In 2010, the Election Commission had to deal with a major controversy when three scientists claimed they had found a way to hack into EVMs, that results inside the machine can be altered by sending messages from a mobile phone. However, the EC was not convinced, and has steadfastly maintained that its EVMs are of standalone type that are not part of any network and cannot be controlled by an exterl device, nor can the software written on its chips be reprogrammed. However, with political parties carping about EVMs after poll reverses (including the BJP before its landslide victory in 2014) — the sooner the Supreme Court’s order for paper trail in EVMs is implemented, the better. The Vote Verifier Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) allows voters to verify that their votes were cast correctly, with the EVM printing out a paper ballot containing the serial number, me and poll symbol of the candidate. As late as in January this year, the apex court reiterated its 2013 order, directing the EC to give a deadline for implementing VVPAT for 100% poll transparency. Surely, this should be something voters can look forward to, at least by the next general elections in 2019.