Aayomi Sharma

| @ | January 14,2019

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) facility was used for the first time in 2013 in Noksen (Assembly Constituency) in Nagaland. The VVPAT is a paper slip which comes out of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) after a voter casts his vote. The paper slip shows the name of the candidate and the election symbol of the candidate chosen by him/her. This slip is shown to the candidate for about seven seconds and then the slip is cut off and dropped into a box below it. The machine from which the slip comes out is encased in a glass box so that the voter can see the slip. The machine can be accessed only by the polling officers.

This facility was put in place after rumours about the EVM being tampered started spreading. It was to ensure the voters that the EVM was not tampered with and their vote had actually gone to the selected candidate.

On January 7, 2018, a Supreme Court bench presided over by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi issued a notice on a plea seeking 30% of VVPAT slips to be cross verified in each of the constituencies. Advocate Prasanna S appeared for the petitioners — former civil servant, M G Devasahayam, former Secretary Haryana Government, Kalarickal Pranchu Fabian and retired bank officer, Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev.

 

[Read petition] Supreme Court seeks reply from Election Commission of India on plea seeking cross-verification of VVPATs in at least 30% of randomly chosen polling booths in each constituency

 

The notice said that this step had to be taken for the elections to be seen as free and fair. It also mentions how in 2013, the Supreme Court held that it was in the “interests of transparency and voter satisfaction” to implement the facility of VVPAT. This was upheld in Subramanian Swamy v. Election Commission of India (ECI), wherein the ECI had implemented VVPAT in Nagaland as mentioned earlier. The bench has followed that prior judgement to issue this order.

The petitioners raised a significant point that “VVPAT counts in order to not only detect any technological mischief or malprogramming of EVMs, but also deter such mischief.”

The petition further challenged the Centre’s decision to confine the VVPAT exercise to a “statistically insignificant number” of only one polling station in each constituency. It says that this decision is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Petitioners add that it is “manifestly arbitrary, irrational, unreasonable.”

It also clarifies that it is not trying to undermine any election held in the country so far, it is only trying to make the point that India is an advanced democracy and so needs to “adopt a process that has integrity and inspires confidence, independent on the technological safeguards and a process that acknowledges, accounts for asymmetries in information and the opacity of the electronic voting and makes meaningful use of the VVPATs.”

Finally, “The Petitioners submit that in order to detect and deter any such mischief or bias in the EVM process, at least 30% of all polling stations in a constituency must be chosen randomly for EVM counts to be cross verified with VVPAT counts.”

The petition has challenged the Centre’s decision to confine the VVPAT exercise to a “statistically insignificant number” of only one polling station in each constituency. It says that this decision is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Petitioners add that it is “manifestly arbitrary, irrational, unreasonable”

In the past there have been many incidents of the votes polled and the votes counted being extremely different from each other. The most recent and drastic one was in the Madhya Pradesh elections. As many as 2,605 votes were not counted even though they were polled.

VVPAT is a record of all the votes. It ensures that the votes polled, and votes counted are the same. If they are not, there is a paper trail to find what is missing and what needs to be fixed. It adds another layer of accountability, acting as a feedback system to the entire election.

EVMs are prone to manipulation and corruption whereas linking EVMs and VVPATs makes it a perfect system. The voting system becomes free of any corruption or even malfunction with this combination.

EVMs aided by VVPATs are an essential step to ensure accuracy in the voting system. If the Election Commission and the State really want complete transparency and to secure the confidence of the voters, then combining EVMs and VVPATs is a must. In cases of disputes, the paper slip from VVPAT acts as a solution and is there for verification. Every vote is an act of expression in our democracy and that is why it has immense importance. Every vote needs to come with a confident and assured voter and that is how this democracy will function efficiently.

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