Counting 10% of paper trail should do the trick

Counting 10% of paper trail should do the trick

Sanjay Kumar

The Indian voter now faces a Shakespearean dilemma: to trust the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) or not? The final word has not been said yet, with the Election Commission insisting that EVMs cannot be tampered with and those who insist that they can be, unable to prove it so far. DH's Shemin Joy spoke to Sanjay Kumar, Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), on the issue.

The question of EVMs has not been settled yet. How do you see this ahead of the Lok Sabha elections?

One thing is for sure -- this whole debate has lowered people’s trust in EVMs, given the questions raised about them. This much we can say with great surety. Political parties are raising certain questions, there have been instances of malfunctioning of EVMs, all these have raised doubts in the minds of common people. When we conducted surveys 15-20 years ago, almost everybody, cutting across caste, polity or locality, had a high degree of trust in EVMs. That has changed now. During the surveys then, 95-97% people said they trusted the EVMs. Now, there is roughly a 20% decline in the number of people who say they trust these machines. I think the trust in EVMs has gone down drastically.

What do you think are the problems?

I won't be able to say much on the technical aspects, with regard to the functioning of EVMs, because I don't have any technical know-how about them. Generally, it is said that EVMs cannot be tampered with. But it is said that there is some possibility of tampering with any technology. But more than that, I think we keep getting news about EVMs malfunctioning during polling. All these have together given rise to the doubts in people’s minds. I think the Election Commission has become sensitive to this. That is why VVPAT has been introduced. Now, there is this demand for counting of VVPATs in a certain number of polling stations. This goes to indicate that even the EC has ceded some ground in this debate. I think they are also somewhat under pressure. If they were not under pressure, if they were absolutely sure nothing could be done, why would VVPAT be introduced. I think the proportion of VVPAT to be counted may go up this time because of the pressure from the opposition parties.

The opposition is demanding that at least 50% of VVPAT should be counted. Is it feasible?

This whole logic of whether 5% or 10% should be counted is difficult to understand. If you are demanding 50%, then why not count 100% of VVPAT? Then the question is, if 100% VVPATs are counted, why do you even want to count EVMs? So, the VVPAT audit has to be done with smaller samples. Counting 10% of VVPAT would be a good enough sample. If it is done randomly, that should give confidence to voters and parties. I think 50% is too high a number.

Have these doubts hit the Election Commission's credibility?

Yes, to some extent.

What should EC do to regain trust?

I don't think there could be any aspect other than increasing the proportion of VVPAT counting. It should be increased from the existing one polling station per constituency to maybe counting 10% of VVPAT per constituency. That should be reasonable. I know even that may not satisfy the opposition, but I think 10% should be alright. 

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