Chink in the armoury?

It seems that a sudden chink has come up in the armoury of democracy.  The much-hyped electronic voting machines (EVM), which were once considered as a guarantee to free and fair elections, are now being questioned and a demand is increasingly being heard on reverting back to ballot papers in Maharashtra assembly election in October.

Ever since a retired civil servant Omesh Saigal pointed out to Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla that the EVMs could be tampered with, Left, BJP and other Opposition party leaders have become extremely vocal about reviewing the efficacy of the gadgets,
The former Delhi Chief Secretary has said that rigging of EVMs was possible and that a programme written by a junior programmer showed that the final results of an election could vary if a pre-programmed code number was keyed into the machine.

“We have challenged him to come and give us a demonstration of how he could manipulate the EVM used by us. He has not given us any demonstration yet and we can only consider reviewing the efficacy of our machines when we see his demonstration,” an EC source told Deccan Herald.

The Election Commission of India, which used 11.83 lakh EVMs in nine lakh polling stations across the country during the recently-held Lok Sabha election, said the gadgets are hundred percent tamper-proof.

“The Commission has been consulting a group of technical experts comprising P V Indiresan and IIT professors D T Sahani and A K Agarwala regularly, on all EVM related technical issues,” the source said.

In the wake of the controversy Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi had already made it clear that the EVMs used in India are foolproof. “We (the ECI) are not thinking of scrapping the EVMs,” he said after reviewing election preparations in Haryana for next year’s assembly polls.

The Election Commissioner said that though some European countries, including Germany, were reverting to ballot papers for elections, they will come to see the EVMs developed in India one day.

According to EC, from the initial introduction in 1982, to the countrywide use of EVMs in 2004, the country took long and measured steps spanning over a period of nearly two decades, in the matter of electronic voting.

The Commission said the tamper-proof technological soundness of the EVM has been endorsed by a technical experts sub-committee appointed at the initiative of he Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms in 1990.

The EC also claimed to have in place elaborate administrative measures and procedural checks and balances aimed at total transparency and prevention of any possible misuse or procedural lapses.

The issue has reached Parliament too. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has taken up the omplaints against EVMs as part of 28 items of electoral reforms. “We could not take up discussion on EVMs as our term was over. Now, the new committee will study the issue”, Sudarshan Natchiappan, who headed the last committee, told Deccan Herald.

Foolproof, says EC

Checks and balances to ensure free and fair polls include:

* Rigorous pre-election checking of each EVM by technicians.
* Two-level randomisation with the involvement of political parties, candidates and their agents, for he random allotment of the EVMs to various constituencies and subsequently to various olling stations.
* Preparation of the EVMs for elections in the presence of the candidates/their agents and the lection observers.

* Provision for various thread seal and paper seal protection against any unauthorised access to the EVMs after preparation.

* Mock poll in the presence of polling agents and mock poll certification before the commencement of poll.

* Post-poll sealing and strong room protection.

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