Sunday July 21, 2024

All about functions, cost, efficacy of Electronic Voting Machines

By Sabir Shah
March 18, 2021

LAHORE: As Prime Minister Imran Khan contemplates the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) for transparent elections without any criminal fraud and ballot tampering, research shows that this phenomenon seems to have been working well for over 20 countries, including India, where the April-May 2019 general elections had seen 67 per cent of the 911 million eligible voters casting their votes through this mode across 542 constituencies.

These machines have been used in all general and state assembly elections of India since 2014, when more than one million EVMs were used in all constituencies in the country.

An EVMs is an electronic device for recording votes. An Electronic Voting Machine consists of two Units - a Control Unit and a Balloting Unit - joined by a five-meter cable. The control unit of the EVM is placed with the polling officer and its balloting unit is kept inside the voting compartment. They do not require electricity. Research conducted by the "Jang Group and Geo Television Network" further shows that till date, EVMs have been used in 113 Indian general elections of state assemblies and three Lok Sabha elections since 2000. According to the "Times of India," the world's largest democracy had spent over Rs54 billion Indian Rupees (equivalent to Pakistani Rs116.39 billion) on EVMs for the 2019 polls.

Quoting the Indian Election Commission ahead of the 2019 polls, the "Business Standard," a noted Indian English-language daily newspaper, had stated: "Around 2.2 million ballot units, 1.63 million control units and nearly 1.73 million Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) will be used for the forthcoming elections in 2019." It added: "Indian elections have been marked by criminal fraud and ballot tampering since the 1950s. The first major election with large scale organized booth capturing were observed in 1957."

According to various Indian media houses, Electronic voting requires capital spending every few years to update equipment, as well as annual spending for maintenance, security and supplies. If it works well, its speed can be an advantage where there are many contests on each ballot.

With the EVM , instead of issuing a ballot paper, the polling officer will press the Ballot Button which enables the voter to cast their vote.

India, Australia, United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Namibia, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Switzerland, Venezuela, and the Philippines etc, were using EVMs.

In 2019, the "India Today" had divulged: "The Cost of M2 EVMs (manufactured between 2006-10) was Indian Rs8,670 (equal to 18,687 Pakistan Rupees) per EVM (Balloting Unit and Control Unit). The cost of M3 EVMs has been tentatively fixed at about Indian Rs17,000 (equivalent to 36,642 Pakistani Rupees) per unit."

The "Brookings Institite"of the United States has maintained: "For a democracy of this size with a complex multi-party system, electoral fraud is naturally a leading concern. But the use of EVMs in India’s electoral procedure over the years has given its voters confidence that their vote makes a meaningful difference to election results and democratic governance. Under the paper ballot system, polling booths would often be captured and ballot boxes would be stuffed, resulting in an unusually high voter turnout. EVMs helped tackle this risk by incorporating an important feature — registering only five votes per minute. Committing electoral fraud would require capturing polling booths for longer periods."

It propounded: "In 2013, the Election Commission of India formally incorporated Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail machines in the electoral systems. The VVPAT—leaving behind a paper trail of the vote cast—acts as an additional layer of verifiability and assurance in the electoral process. A paper record ensures that the vote has indeed gone to the intended candidate and is recorded as such."

The "Brookings Institute" had more to say: "As per the Supreme Court of India’s ruling in 2019, a random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs took place in five polling booths per assembly segment. Of the 1.73 million VVPATs deployed, slips from 20,625 VVPATs were physically counted. The physical audit did not find a single case of a mismatch between the VVPAT slip and the EVM count."

According to the Indian Election Commission, Brookings Institute, and the India Today etc, the EVMs were first used in 1982 at 50 polling stations of a Kerala state by-election. However, the absence of a specific law prescribing its use led to the Supreme Court striking down that election.

First conceived in 1977 in the Election Commission, the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd, Hyderabad, was assigned the task to design and develop it.

In 1998, these EVMs were used in 25 Legislative Assembly constituencies spread across three states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.

Its use was further expanded in 1999 to 45 Parliamentary Constituencies and later, in February 2000, to 45 Assembly Constituencies of the Haryana Assembly elections. According to a 2013 report of the Hamburg University of Technology, countries Nepal, Bhutan, Namibia and Kenya had purchased India-manufactured EVMs. In 2013, Namibia had acquired 1,700 control units and 3,500 ballot units from India's Bharat Electronics Limited.