(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

EVMs may be under a cloud in India but more than 20 nations use them

  • Political parties have alleged that EVMs can be tampered with and demanded a return to paper ballots
  • In the US, direct vote-recording machines are used in 27 states, while 15 states use machines with paper audit trail machines

NEW DELHI : As India gears up for the 2019 general election, political parties have cast doubts on electronic voting machines (EVMs), alleging they can be hacked or tampered with and demanded a return to paper ballots and manual counting.

Questioning the credibility of EVMs, reportedly hailed by a 2004 Karnataka high court judgement as the “pride of India", is, however, not new. All political parties have done it sometime or the other, according to former Election Commission officials. The controversy has been simmering of late and seemed to get a fresh lease of life last week when a so-called US-based cyber expert said he had proof that EVMs could be hacked. However, he was unable to conclusively demonstrate this.

EVMs seem to be under a perception cloud in India, but worldwide about 20 countries use some form of electronic voting.

Britain, seen as the mother of all democracies, relies on paper ballots to elect 650 MPs to the House of Commons. The US, popularly referred to as the world’s oldest democracy, on the other hand, uses a combination of direct voting machines to read the vote marked on ballot papers, as well as ballot papers. At present, Namibia, Nepal, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Venezuela, besides the US, use some form of electronic voting.

In the US, direct vote-recording machines are used in 27 states, while 15 states use machines with paper audit trail machines, according to two US government websites. Unlike the Indian EVMs, which are stand-alone machines, voting machines in the US are connected to a server and operate using the internet, making them vulnerable to cyberattacks. Against the backdrop of allegations of hacking of the 2016 US presidential elections, the Congress last year had earmarked $380 million to secure servers and systems in the country, a Bloomberg news report said.

(Graphic: Naveen Kumar Saini/Mint)

A country that has successfully used EVMs on a large scale during elections is Brazil. The fifth most populous country in the world, Brazil, started using electronic voting in the mid-1990s, according to the Brazilian government website, much for the same reasons that prompted India to switch to EVMs. These include reduction of election fraud and coercion, snatching of ballot boxes and minimizing counting anomalies. In the October polls that brought the Social Liberal Party’s Jair Bolsonaro to power, EVMs were used to cast votes.

In Africa, Namibia uses Indian EVMs. They were used in the 2014 presidential elections, just ahead of which, opposition parties had moved the court challenging the use of the India-made machines, alleging that it could facilitate rigging. The Namibian High Court in Windhoek, however, had dismissed the case.

In Germany, though, which had introduced electronic voting in 2005, the Federal Constitutional Court in a 2009 judgement, held that the use of EVMs was unconstitutional and observed that such a practice lacked transparency, multiple news reports said. EVMs were imported from a private company in the Netherlands and reported to have many deficiencies, the reports added.

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