ARE the Electronic Voting Machines tamper-proof? Experts say they are not. The Election Commission however is unnecessarily sensitive and cagey about any question on EVM.
It is a fact of technological evolution that humans have not yet invented any machine that is absolutely tamper-proof. The credibility of any system will depend more on transparency, verifiability and trustworthiness than on blind and atavistic faith in its infallibility.
If the Election Commission is convinced that the EVMs are not tamperable there is no reason why it gets embarrassed about opening it to public scrutiny. Unfortunately, its expert Shri P V Indiresan, who is a technocrat has unreasonably taken an unscientific position on the issue as if we have heard the last word on EVM. That there is no further scope for improvement or review. This is not a private affair. It involves the future of India. Even if the EVM is genuinely perfect there is no reason for the EC to get so touchy about it.
The Election Commission and the government cannot impose EVMs as a fait accompli of Indian democracy. If democracy has to flourish as a vibrant system of government, the regime cannot be allowed to impose its obstinate will as the only option before the voter.
There were flaws in the ballot paper method. This led to the evolution of the EVMs. In the ballot paper election there were wide spread allegations of booth capturing, rigging, bogus voting, tampering and ballot paper snatching. EVMs were promoted as a cleaner, faster and more efficient device. All these complaints are now relevant in the case of EVMs too. Rigging is possible even at the counting stage. But what makes ballot box and paper more voter friendly is that all aberrations take place before the public eye and hence open to correction. In the case of EVMs its manipulation is entirely in the hands of the powers that be-and with political appointees manning the system, it is only a step away from creating a banana republic.
The ruling party can always manipulate the result it wants. With ballot paper it is more cumbersome. Further the only advantage the Election Commission claimed for introducing the EVMs initially-speed-has itself been undermined by the staggered polls, spread over three to four months. This has already killed all the fun of the election process.
Then we have the intriguing counting system in which within the first couple of hours the winners are declared as if out of a magic box.
There is always the suspicion of the devil in the machine, lack of transparency -the fear of the secret and the unknown. Twelve general elections were held by the ballot box and only two under the EVMs. Instead of trying to rationally address the doubts aired by reputed institutions and experts, the government has now resorted to silence the critics by intimidation and arrests on false charges. The integrity of the EVM has again become a matter of public concern after the recent arrest of Shri Hari Prasad, a technologist whose research helped prove beyond doubt that Indian electronic voting machines are vulnerable to fraud. Perhaps the authorities want to send out a message that anybody who challenges the Election Commission runs the risk of persecution and harassment.
If we cannot trust our EVMs, we face the danger of living in a system of managed democracy. In a shocking expose of the Election Commission’s failure to assure the trustworthyness of the EVMs in his book Democracy at Risk Shri GVL Narasimha Rao has lucidly explained how endangered has our democracy become after the introduction of EVMs. Around the world, voters look at EVMs with suspicion. Most countries which initially introduced it, like the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Ireland banned EVMs because they “are easy to falsify”, “risked eavesdropping” and “lacked transparency”. Most developed countries still follow the ballot paper method.
Democracy is too precious to be handed over to the whims of an opaque establishment and a network of unsafe gizmos. For the health of Indian democracy, it is better to return to our tried and tested methods. Or else elections in future can turn out to be a farce.