Friday December 08, 2023

EVMs: How democracies went about e-voting

August 10, 2021

LAHORE: Amid debate on efficacy of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), it is imperative to have a look at the history, facts, court rulings and statistics involving these gadgets deemed vital for electoral transparency in about 20 countries including India, Belgium, Estonia, Venezuela, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Maldives, Namibia, Egypt, Bhutan and Nepal etc.

However, many countries of the world including England, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands etc have banned the use of these EVMs following serious doubts about their safety, accuracy, mass hacking, reliability and verification of elections.

The EVMS were first used in India 37 years ago, in only one constituency during the 1982 Kerala assembly election.

The 1982 Kerala election was meant to be an experiment, and the Congress candidate at the time, A.C. Jose, moved the Supreme Court to challenge the use of EVMs after he lost the election to Sivan Pillai of the Communist Party of India.

In 1990, an Electoral Reforms Committee unanimously recommended the use of EVMs, terming them technically sound, secure and transparent.In 1992, necessary amendments to the Conduct of Elections Rules 1961 were notified by the government vis-à-vis the use of EVMs.

In 2003, all Indian by-elections and state elections were held using EVMs.

The next year marked the complete rollout of EVMs, with the 2004 general election going down in history as the first instance of the machine’s use across the country.

The EVMs used in India were devised and designed by state-owned Bharat Electronics (Bangalore) and Electronic Corporation of India (Hyderabad). During the April 11-May 19, 2019 Indian polls, spanning 29 states, over 91.2 million voters were declared eligible to vote across 1.035 million polling stations.

Not fewer than 3.96 million EVMs, including 1.73 million Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines were installed.

There were 2,293 political parties in contention and some 11 million state personnel were deployed to oversee the exercise.

About 8,000 candidates had contested for 543 Lok Sabha seats then. (Reference: The Quartz India, a business-focused English-language international news organization. Lunched from New York City in 2012, it publishes in the United States and Japan, and publishes regional editions for the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Africa and India).

After the 2011 rulings of Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court of India, the country’s Election Commission included a paper trail as well to help confirm the reliable operation of EVMs.

The EVMs were thus fixed with Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail system between 2012 and 2013.

On April 9, 2019, Indian Supreme Court had ordered Election Commission to use VVPAT paper trail system in every assembly constituency, but verify only about 2 per cent of the EVMs, which meant only five polling stations per constituency were to be examined before certifying the final results.

The Brookings Institute of United States had stated: “As per Supreme Court orders, of the 1.73 million VVPATs deployed, slips from 20,625 of them were physically counted. The physical audit did not find a single mismatch between VVPAT slip and the EVM count.” Just a day ago, on August 08, 2021, according to Indian NDTV and Press Trust of India, the country’s Central Information Commission ordered the disclosure of the total number of EVMs and VVPATs that showed defects and errors during testing and evaluation of their firmware by the Standardization, Testing and Quality Certification Directorate. The Election Commission has so far used EVMs in 113 assembly and three Lok Sabha elections.

Indian EVMs are run on batteries and hence don't require electricity. They are also lighter and easily portable compared to the huge ballot boxes.

A maximum of 2,000 votes can be recorded in an EVM used in India.

Countries that banned EVMs: It is surprising that even some in major developed countries of the world do not rely on the technology of EVMs.

In Germany, EVMS were termed as unconstitutional and banned in 2009.

In Netherlands, EVMs were banned after a decision was taken by the Dutch council in 2007. From the late 1990s until 2007, voting machines were used extensively in Dutch elections.

In Ireland, the system was discontinued in 2010 due to lack of trust and transparency, the “Irish Times” had reported.

The total cost of the electronic voting project had reached 54.6 million pounds by then. This included three million pounds spent on storing the machines over the previous five years. In England, the Parliament announced in January 2016 that it had no plans to introduce EVMs.

In France, Electronic voting was used in the 2007 national Presidential primary elections. While the country has chosen to vote via the internet since 2003, EVMs are not being used.

In Italy, Dutch EVMs during the 2006 polls. The pilot project involved 3,000 electors and four polling stations. However, after the pilot project was completed, the country chose to go back to paper as it is easy to manage and cheaper.

In the US, electronic voting involves several types of machines. The Americans use touch screens for voters to mark choices, scanners to read paper ballots, scanners to verify signatures on envelopes of absentee ballots, and web servers to display tallies to the public. Apart from voting, there are also computer systems to maintain voter registrations.