EC to revisit stand on EVMs

EC to revisit stand on EVMs

New Delhi: Signalling a rethink of its stand on electronic voting machines (EVMs), the Election Commission (EC) has said it will consider the feasibility of incorporating a paper-vote trail or a “voter verifiable paper trail" of every ballot registered during polling.

The change in stance comes after the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought a paper trail in the meeting between political parties and EC on 4 October to discuss electoral malpractice and EVMs. EC has thus far held that EVMs are foolproof and don’t quite require any paper-based confirmation.

In a statement issued on Friday, EC said it will consider the option of a paper trail. It has now referred this to a technical committee headed by P.V. Indiresan, former director of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Chennai.

“In view of the fact that periodic improvements in EVMs have been undertaken by the commission in the past as well, several political parties suggested that the feasibility of incorporating a ‘Voter Verifiable Paper Trail’ in EVMs may be explored to further enhance voters’ satisfaction," the EC statement said.

The technical expert committee, which includes two professors from IIT (Delhi), D.T. Shahani and A.K. Agarwala, will submit its report to EC for further consideration.

The EC statement comes ahead of several crucial assembly elections, including polls in Bihar this month, and West Bengal and Kerala next year.

“There is already an inbuilt paper trail in EVMs of which we can take a sequential printout only after orders from the court. However, now what is being considered is a voter-verifiable paper trail where the voter can get an acknowledgement that his vote has been correctly registered," said a top EC official who did not want to be identified.

Explaining the process under consideration, the official said: “The mechanism being considered is that a slip will come out which will then fall into a box, and hence, the voter will not be able to take it back with him. We now have to look into two aspects—one, the technical feasibility of this exercise and, two, issues regarding voter privacy."

EVMs have been at the centre of a controversy with activists and several political parties, including the BJP, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as well as regional parties, alleging that they were not tamper-proof.

Another EC official, who is in the know of things but did not want to be identified, clarified that if at all introduced, the paper trails can be used for cross-checking results. He also said that EC did not have any doubt about the EVMs, and it was more of a “conciliatory" effort with political parties that have been demanding this.

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, psephologist and a critic of EVM, says paper trails are a “decent compromise" EC can make. “The existing machine is not worth continuing with because it is not transparent, the outcome is not verifiable... The paper trail is all that we have been demanding. It serves as a verification mechanism. Further, it serves the purpose of re-checking or recounting later," he said.

EVMs were used for the first time in 45 seats in the 1999 general election. Polling in the 2004 elections was entirely through EVMs. In 2009, 671 million voted through EVMs.

Jacob Koshy contributed to this story.