Electronic Voting Machines

Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) was first used in 1982 in the by-election to Parur Assembly Constituency of Kerala for a limited number of polling stations (50 polling stations). They are being used in part from 1999 elections and in total since 2004 elections. The EVMs reduce the time in both casting a vote and declaring the results compared to the old paper ballot system. Bogus voting and booth capturing can be greatly reduced by the use of EVMs. Illiterate people find EVMs easier than ballot paper system. EVMs are easier to transport as compared to ballot boxes.

The invalid and doubtful votes in the earlier ballot and box system have been almost eliminated by use of EVMs. These were the root causes of many election petitions. Further, EVMs reduce a great extent the quantity of paper used thus saving a large number of trees making the process eco-friendly. It reduces cost of printing almost nil as only one sheet of ballot paper required for each Polling Station.

Before their introduction, the ECI had discussed about EVMs with all the recognized political parties and held demonstration before them. Moreover, opinion of the Technical Committee comprising Prof. S. Sampath, Prof. P.V. Indiresan and Dr. C Rao Kasarbada was also obtained. The Committee examined the machines minutely from all technical angles and unanimously recommended their use in elections.

Unique Features

  • Simple machine, can be operated easily by both polling personnel and the voters.
  • Sturdy and able to withstand rough handling and variable climatic conditions.
  • Standalone machine without network connectivity. Due to this, nobody can interfere with its programming and manipulate the result.
  • Does not run on electricity but on alkaline batteries. So can work with erratic / absent power supply.

Manufacturing and Design

The EVMs are manufactured by two central government undertakings viz. Bharat Electronics Limited and Electronics Corporation of India Limited.  An EVM consists of two interlinked units viz. ballot unit (used by voter uses to exercise his / her vote) and control unit (used by the polling officials).

The Ballot Unit is the simple voting device. It displays the list of candidates. A facility to incorporate party names and symbols is in-built. All the voter has to do is press the desired switch located next to the name of each candidate. The main advantage is the speed, apart from the simplicity of operation, which requires no training at all. A single ballot unit takes in the names of 16 candidates. And thus, by connecting four ballot units the EVM can accommodate a total of 64 candidates in a single election. The control unit is the main unit which stores all data and controls the functioning of EVM.

The new EVMs have also got real time clock and date-time stamping facility which enables them to record the exact time and date whenever a key is pressed. After the voting is completed and the close button is pressed, the machine does not accept any data or record any vote. Through the press of “total” button, the control unit can display the number of votes recorded till that time which can be cross checked with the register of voters in Form 17-A.

The display system of the control unit shows the total number of votes polled in a polling station and the candidate-wise votes polled in the machine when the ‘result’ button is pressed by the counting staff in the presence of counting agents at the counting centre. The control unit can also detect any physical tampering made with the connecting cable and indicate the same in the display unit.

Capacity

Normally less than 1400 votes are assigned to a polling station. An EVM can record a maximum of 3840 votes which exceeds this number. Elections can be conducted through EVMs when the maximum number of candidates does not exceed 64. If the number of candidates exceeds 64, then there is no option than to use the conventional method of ballot papers.

Security Features / Tamperproof

The following information has been sourced from Election Commission website:

The program which controls the functioning of the control unit is burnt into a micro chip on a “one time programmable basis”. Once burnt it cannot be read, copied out or altered. The EVMs use dynamic coding to enhance security of data transmitted from ballot unit to control unit. The fused program can neither be altered nor overwritten. Any attempt to burn additional or substitute code on the chip would destroy its existing program and render it unusable/useless. As an additional precautionary measure, the machines prepared for a poll are physically sealed in the presence of candidates or their agents and kept in secure strong rooms guarded by Central Police Force which can also be watched by the representatives of the candidates. The storage places for these pre-poll or polled EVMs can be accessed only by following a stringent procedure set by the Commission ensuring complete transparency.

EVM randomization

Despite the EVMs being tamper proof, further precautions are taken by way of a two stage randomization process for the EVMs to be used in an election. This is done to make sure that nobody comes to know beforehand to which constituency/ polling station a specific EVM will be used. For this purpose, serial numbers of all the EVMs to be used under the jurisdiction of a District Election Officer are listed. The EVMs which are to be used in a particular constituency is then randomly selected through a computerized process which is known as first level randomization. Another randomization called second level randomization is done by the Returning Officer afterwards to determine which specific EVM will be used at a particular polling station of that constituency.

VVPAT

Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) also known as verified paper record (VPR) is a verification system for voting machines that allows voters to verify whether or not their vote was cast correctly, to detect possible fraud or malfunction, and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.

The VVPAT is a paper-based record rather than computer memory-based record. It is readable by the human eye and allows voters to interpret their vote directly. Whereas Computer memory needs a device and software, etc. It adds a layer of security to the mandate as insecure voting machine records could be changed quickly without detection but it would be difficult for voting machines to corrupt paper records without human intervention. A VVPAT allows voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended. It can also serve as an additional barrier to changing votes.

Under VVPAT, a printer is linked to the EVM and a receipt is generated when the vote is cast. This receipt is then kept locked with the election officers to be viewed in the rare case of a fraud. The system is being introduce to upgrade the process of digitization of the voting process and not because the EVMs are unsafe.

VVPAT can introduce large concerns over reliability, records printed on thermal papers can fade over time and in the event that audit is conducted, it is unclear which count will be considered the actual count as machines on both ends of the security spectrum can malefaction or be hacked.

Maintaining Accuracy of electoral rolls

In the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, some questions were raised about the efficiency of the process of electoral rolls revision and updating. However, there have been robust steps taken by the ECI to ensure the integrity and accuracy of electoral rolls from year to year and election to election.

Going back, in 1993 the Election Commission of India (ECI) had initiated the issue of Electors Photo Identity Cards (EPIC), which gives every voter a unique identification number. ECI also followed it up with computerization of the all electoral rolls in a phased manner. Some states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu even published ‘photo electoral rolls’. More recently, online registration of voters was meant to ensure a near-foolproof voters list by eliminating impersonation and bogus/ghost voting.

This year, the ECI launched a nationwide online ‘electoral roll search’ to be used by voters from their computers or even smartphones to search their names on the rolls. Furthermore, the system of distribution of booth slips also helps those on the rolls find their polling booth and makes a good cross-checking device. However much needs to be done to maintain the accuracy of the lists and to decentralize the inclusion and deletion of names in the voter list at the ward level. The lists should be linked to a real time database that may reflect any changes made to address or name-change immediately.

The whole process needs to be made more citizen-friendly by providing an online portal for viewing, editing and changing particulars and applying for and issuing of new voter-id cards.

Use of Indian EVM in Bhutan

Bhutan used the Indian EVMs for the whole country during their last elections. These machines were also used by Nepal for some of their constituencies during the last general elections in the country.

Summary

  • These machines were first used in Parur Assembly Election in Kerala in 1982. They are being used in part from 1999 elections and in total since 2004 elections.
  • They have reduced the time used in election procedure and eliminated the possibility of invalid and doubtful votes in the earlier ballot and box system, which were root causes of many election petitions.
  • Absence of electricity is not a problem because they work on alkaline batteries.
  • Manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited and Electronics Corporation of India Limited.
  • Each EVM has two interlinked units viz. ballot unit (used by voter uses to exercise his / her vote) and control unit (used by the polling officials).
  • Normally less than 1400 votes are assigned to a polling station. An EVM can record a maximum of 3840 votes which exceeds this number.
  • Elections can be conducted through EVMs when the maximum number of candidates does not exceed 64. If the number of candidates exceeds 64, then there is no option than to use the conventional method of ballot papers.
  • As per election commission, EVMs are secure and temper-proof and to make process further secure, the ECI used EVM randomization so that nobody comes to know beforehand to which constituency/ polling station a specific EVM will be used.
  • Now a days, a Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) also known as verified paper record (VPR) is used as a verification system for voting machines that allows voters to verify whether or not their vote was cast correctly, to detect possible fraud or malfunction, and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.
  • In the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, some questions were raised about the efficiency of the process of electoral rolls revision and updating. However, there have been robust steps taken by the ECI to ensure the integrity and accuracy of electoral rolls from year to year and election to election.
  • Bhutan used the Indian EVMs for the whole country during their last elections. These machines were also used by Nepal for some of their constituencies during the last general elections in the country.

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