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December 19, 2013

India devises flawless ballot mechanism

December 19, 2013

LAHORE: While Pakistan is still struggling to devise a mechanism to overcome electoral frauds, India has gone miles ahead by successfully using the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) during a fairly recent September 4, 2013 bye-election held in Nagaland.
The remote Tuensang district of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly constituency, where this new system was installed, had 12,088 electors distributed across 21 polling stations, which had collectively seen 8,553 votes polled.
According to a November 8, 2013 report of the “Zee News,” the initial price of this machine was about Rs13,000 (equivalent to Pakistani Rupees 22, 427), but because of fall in value of rupee, the new price is estimated to be around Rs18,000 (equivalent to Pakistani Rupees 31,052) per machine.
On the contrary, if one goes through the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) website, it proudly boasts of having successfully implemented the Multi-Biometric National Identity Card and Multi-Biometric e-Passport solutions for Pakistan, Passport Issuing System for Kenya, Bangladesh High Security Driver’s Licence and Civil Registration Management System for Sudan and the National Identity Management System (NIMS) for Nigeria.
It is well-known that Nadra won the Sri Lankan Identity Card project through a competitive bidding process.During the September 4, 2013 bye-election held in a Nagaland constituency, Indian Election Commission had gone on to use the VVPAT system developed by Messrs Electronics Corporation of India Limited and Bharat Electronic Limited.
A printer was attached to the balloting unit of the voting machine and the device was kept along with the balloting unit inside the screened voting compartment.
Prior to the voting exercise, the voters were systematically educated to cast their votes by pressing the candidate’s button against the name and symbol of the candidate of his choice, apart from the

red light glowing against the name and symbol of that candidate.
The attached printers then generated a paper slip containing the serial number, name and symbol of candidate for whom the votes were cast. This paper slip remained visible to the voters through a window covered by glass on the printer.
After some time, the paper slip was witnessed getting cut automatically and falling into the box permanently attached below the printer.This mechanism had thus enabled the Nagaland voters to verify and satisfy themselves that the vote cast by them for the candidate of their choice was actually recorded correctly for that candidate.
Certain doubts did arise during the whole process, but at the time of the counting of votes, these paper slips were counted and tallied with the number of votes recorded in the control unit of the voting machine.
The results were excellent as the number of votes displayed in the voting machines against each of the two contesting candidates tallied with the paper slips generated by the printers of the VVPAT system at the time of counting on September 7, 2013.
It is pertinent to note that on January 17, 2012, prior to the above-cited Nagaland polling exercise, the Delhi High Court had ruled in a case that the Electronic Voting machines (EVMs)used in India for electoral purposes were not “tamper proof.”
The petitioner in this case was Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a renowned Indian politician and President of the Janata Party. Just two days after this court verdict, on January 19, 2012, the Indian Election Commission had ordered Messrs Electronics Corporation of India Limited and Bharat Electronic Limited to make Electronic Voting Machines that could generate a “paper trail” of the vote cast.
However, the Delhi High Court had refused to order a VVPAT system and this verdict was challenged in the Supreme Court of India by Dr. Subramanian Swamy in September 2012.On September 27, 2012, the Indian Election Commission’s advocate Ashok Desai had submitted before a Supreme Court bench that field trial for the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail system was in progress and that a status report would be submitted by early January 2013.
Advocate Desai had said that on pressing of each vote, a paper receipt would be printed, which would be visible to the voters inside a glass, but could not be taken out of the machine.Remember, the Electronic Voting Machines were partly used in the 1999 Indian General and State polls, and in total since the 2004 ballot exercise.
However, these Indian Electronic Voting Machines had come under a cloud of suspicion, especially after the 2009 General Elections, when allegations had surfaced that they could be tampered with and had security issues. These accusations had then led the country’s Election Commission to introduce machines with VVPAT.
Powered by an ordinary 6 volt alkaline battery, these Electronic Voting Machines were first used in 1981 in a Kerala by-election. Each Electronic Voting Machine in India can currently record a maximum of 3,840 votes, which is sufficient for a polling station as they typically have no more than 1,400 voters assigned.
These machines can cater to a maximum of 64 candidates. There is provision for 16 candidates in a balloting unit. If the total number of candidates exceeds 16, a second balloting unit can be linked parallel to the first balloting unit and so on—- till a maximum of 4 units and 64 candidates. The conventional ballot paper/box method of polling is used if the number of candidates exceeds 64.It is not possible to vote more than once by pressing the button again and again.
As soon as a particular button on the balloting unit is pressed, the vote is recorded for that particular candidate and the machine gets locked. Even if one presses that button further or plays with any other button, no further vote will be recorded. This way these Electronic Voting Machines ensure the principle of “one person, one vote.”
These Indian EVMs cannot be pre-programmed to favour a party or a candidate because the order in which the name of a candidate/party appears on the balloting unit depends on the order of filing of nominations and validity of the candidature and this sequence cannot be predicted in advance.
Moreover, the selection of EVMs for polling stations is randomised by computer selection preventing the advance knowledge of assignment of specific EVMs to polling stations.Through these EVMs, the vote-counting becomes very fast and the result can be declared within two to three hours as compared to 30–40 hours, on an average, under the ballot-paper system.
It goes without saying that bogus voting can be greatly reduced by the use of these EVMs, because in case of ballot paper system, a bogus voter can stuff thousands of bogus ballot papers inside the ballot box.
An EVM is programmed to record only five votes in a minute. This will frustrate the bogus voters. Further, the maximum number of votes that can be cast in a single EVM is 3,840, as stated above.
Similarly, the number of Invalid votes can be reduced by use of EVMs. In India, as various references confirm, the number of invalid votes has been less than 0.02 per cent.
Interestingly, these Indian EVMs had a flaw as a candidate could know how many people from a polling station had voted for him from a particular area. But then, the Indian election commission had stepped forward by introducing the VVPAT.
A November 8, 2013 report of the “Zee News,” After getting the Supreme Court nod, the Election Commission will soon be seeking about Rs2,000 crore from the government for introducing a voter authentication system called Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) before 2014 general elections. The commission will need about 14 lakh VVPAT machines to introduce the system in all 543 Lok Sabha constituencies in 2014.”
According to R. Tiwari and C. Herstatt’s book “India: A lead market for frugal innovations? Extending the lead market theory to emerging markets,” each of these machines was costing just Indian Rs8,670 Indian per unit to the election Commission a few years ago.
This book published by the Hamburg University of Technology states that various countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Bangladesh, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Kenya etc had either purchased the India-manufactured EVMs, or were pondering over to ink Memorandums of Understanding with the Indian Election Commission in this context.
However, numerous foreign media outlets like the “Daily Beast,” “The Irish Times” and the “Huffington Post” etc have reported in recent years that in October 2006, Holland had banned all Electronic Voting Machines (with or without paper print-out).
Problems in ensuring secrecy of ballot and the risk of electronic eavesdropping were cited as the reasons behind this Dutch move.In March 2009, Germany had dubbed these devices unreliable and the country’s Supreme Court had termed their use “unconstitutional.”
Ireland had followed suit by banning these devices in April 2009.But there are chances that with the recent Indian experiment of using the VVPAT system with Electronic Voting Machines, many more countries would be interested to learn from the experiences of the world’s largest democracy and who knows—the European nations banning the use of these devices may have to reverse their decisions after the flaws have been removed!

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