Time for more transparency

Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail adds an additional layer of transparency, wherein the voter can see a printout once the button is pressed on the EVM.

By Author Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu   |   Published: 21st Mar 2017   2:07 am Updated: 21st Mar 2017   11:53 am

Soon after the Uttar Pradesh election results were announced, BSP supremo Mayawati alleged that the electronic voting machines or EVMs were manipulated and that the BJP won even in Muslim-dominated constituencies. In response to this, the Election Commission of India (ECI) put out a detailed note rebutting her allegations. Among other things, the note talks about the technical security of EVMs and concludes that there is no merit in the allegations that EVMs can be manipulated.

Not New Allegations
The allegations over the credibility of EVMs are not new. Multiple cases have been filed in the past by various parties and individuals in high courts and the Supreme Court. In fact, there was a group of people who came together to expose the vulnerability of EVMs about eight years ago. One of them was even sent to jail on charges of stealing an EVM.

Political leaders across the spectrum supported their campaign, right from BJP veteran LK Advani to Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. In fact, political leaders of all hues have raised the issue of EVM manipulation in the past. A book was also written about the alleged security flaws in EVMs by GVL Narasimha Rao, who is currently a spokesperson of the BJP. Incidentally, the foreword of this book was written by LK Advani. The book also has a message from Chandrababu Naidu.

VVPAT with EVMs
BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court in 2012 on the issue of EVM manipulation. The SC in its verdict had directed the ECI to gradually move towards the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system. It also directed the government to provide the required financial assistance for procurement of VVPAT units for EVMs. VVPAT adds an additional layer of transparency, where the voter can see a printout of his voting choice, once the button is pressed on the EVM.

In June 2014, the ECI proposed to implement VVPAT at every polling station in the next general elections to the Lok Sabha due in 2019. It had sought Rs 3,174 crore for implementing this from the government. According to a note put out by the ECI, they have been relentlessly pursuing with the government for sanction and release of funds to procure the required number of VVPATs. The ECI currently has more than 50,000 VVPAT units. It has to be noted that there are more than nine lakh polling stations across the country.

VVPAT in UP
The ECI in its notification for the five State elections announced that VVPAT units will be used in 76 Assembly constituencies across the five States covering 11,514 polling stations. VVPAT units were used in all the 40 constituencies of Goa, four each in Uttarakhand and Manipur, 20 in Uttar Pradesh and eight in Punjab.

The 20 constituencies of UP where VVPAT units were used are traditional BJP strongholds. Even in the 2012 Assembly elections where the BJP got only 47 seats across the State, it had won 11 out of these 20 seats. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP swept these Assembly segments winning all of them. In the 2017 Assembly elections, the BJP won 17 of these seats and the SP won the remaining three.

Vote Share
The BJP’s vote share in these 20 constituencies was around 32% in 2012, which increased to 55% in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In 2017, its vote share decreased to 49.8%. BJP’s vote share in these 20 constituencies was always higher than its overall vote share. In 2012, the BJP’s vote share in the whole of UP was 15%, less than half its vote share in the 20 constituencies. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, its vote share in these 20 constituencies was 13% more than its vote share in the State. This trend continued in 2017 where its vote share in these 20 constituencies was 10% more than its vote share in the State.

The BSP’s vote share in these 20 constituencies, on the other hand, decreased from 19.47% in 2012 to 13.95% in 2017. The combined vote share of SP and the Congress in 2017 in these constituencies was almost 33%, around 5% more than their combined vote share in the State.

The Solution
VVPAT adds an additional layer of transparency to the EVMs. Hence, the results in these 20 constituencies should ideally reflect the overall trend. In these 20 constituencies where the VVPAT units were used in 2017, the BJP has done much better than its overall performance in the State. There is nothing unusual about the results in these 20 constituencies, meaning the allegations about manipulation of EVMs may be unfounded. It also has to be noted that there are no such allegations of manipulation from Goa where VVPAT units were used in all the 40 constituencies.

But this alone may not be enough to convince political parties and their leaders. The only solution is greater transparency in the process and this can be done by using a VVPAT unit with every EVM and counting the manual ballot printouts if a candidate expresses doubts. Only such measures will ensure that over time, these allegations will cease to exist.

(The author is founder of Factly – www.factly.in, a public information portal, and an RTI campaigner)