“Lost time is never found again.”
– Benjamin Franklin
The ghost of the ballot paper has arisen again and the fight may go all the way to the Supreme Court. In an attempt to strengthen the opposition unity against the ruling BJP, 17 political parties, including Trinamool Congress, are planning to approach the Election Commission as well as the apex court demanding that 2019 Lok Sabha polls be conducted on ballot papers. The initiative to solicit the support of all opposition parties on the matter was taken by TMC chief Mamata Banerjee. Interestingly, Banerjee had also urged Shiv Sena, a BJP ally, to be a part of the delegation. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray previously demanded that the 2019 Lok Sabha election be conducted on ballot papers instead of EVMs. The contention of the Opposition parties is that electronic voting machines (EVMs), even those with voter verifiable paper audit trial (VVPATs), would not be acceptable. Though ECI has been maintaining that EVMs are tamper proof, and that VVPATs provide an additional layer to guarantee that voting is accurately captured, the latest demand to scrap EVMs, however, underlines the aggressive mood of the Opposition camp, which has over the past year often attributed the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) victories in state assembly elections to EVMs.
After the state assemblies poll results last year and earlier this year, the opposition parties alleged tampering with the EVM machines which led to the victory of BJP in those states. After these allegations, EC promised to introduce VVPAT machines before the 2019 general elections. But the opposition parties have said that electronic voting machines (EVMs), even those with voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPATs) are not acceptable. Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat has already ruled out bringing back ballot papers in elections and said the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) was being made a “scapegoat” as “it cannot speak.” Political parties needed to blame someone or something for their defeat, he said recently. The claim that the election outcomes are being influenced by altering the EVMs sounds unscientific and does not hold much water. Only with physical possession, machines can be tampered and since these machines are kept under high security the possibility of the same happening is unlikely. The widespread allegation that it can be hacked by Bluetooth or wi-fi is misleading too. The EVMs do not have such networking devices installed in them. To add one more layer of security, the machines are allotted to constituencies and polling stations in a random manner, which would render any plan to tamper with them virtually impossible. Moreover, the fact of the matter is that EVMs remain the best device by which a voter can make his choice without old bogeys of ballot stuffing and booth capturing.
The EC should work towards increasing voter confidence in EVMs. The Commission needs to be more proactive in increasing the confidence of the voters. There is no problem with the machines, but there may be some concerns over the process, so EC must address those. There were some concerns about the functioning of the VVPATs in the recent by-polls; hence the EC should improve on the technology. In a democracy, elections should not only be fair but should also be transparent. By shoring up its image and bringing in some more transparent reforms, the EC can restore faith in elections.