After standing on false prestige and even becoming vindictive against those who suspected the integrity of electronic voting machines, the Election Commission has finally acceded to the demand that the machines must issue a paper receipt to voters. The commission’s decision – made known to the Supreme Court last month in response to the plea by Dr.Subramanian Swamy, President, Janata Party that EVMs be scrapped – is a major victory for all those who were campaigning against electronic voting machines because they lacked transparency. Dr.Swamy had argued that EVMs must be scrapped because they are not tamper-proof. They could be retained only if there was transparency via a paper trail, so that every voter knew that his vote had been registered correctly. Even Japan, which started the process of electronic voting had now reverted to paper ballots. Many other countries had also fallen back on paper ballots for the same reason.The commission, which had stubbornly resisted the demand for either scrapping EVMs or introducing a paper trail, began to display some reasonableness in the matter after Dr.Swamy moved the Supreme Court and a Bench comprising Justices P.Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi declared that it would hear the matter on a priority basis, so that the proceedings concluded before the next parliamentary election.The commission signaled its readiness to consider the plea when it told the court last September that it was contemplating “foolproof methods” to ensure that EVMs were not misused or tampered and that it was consulting technical experts and political parties in this regard.
Finally, some weeks ago, the commission informed the court that it was willing to incorporate the paper trail in order to remove doubts about the integrity of EVMs. The commission told the court that it had done a trial of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in EVMs in 180 polling stations in various states. This system could be incorporated after it received the opinion of an expert committee that is examining the issue. The commission proposes to use the paper trail first in some by-elections and later incorporate the same in general elections. It has already asked EVM manufacturers to fine tune the paper trail system.
The debate on the integrity of the EVMs was started three years ago when a group of public spirited NRIs headed by Mr.Satya Dosapati of New Jersey organized workshops in Delhi and Chennai under the aegis of ‘Save Indian Democracy’ and invited national and international experts to speak about the vulnerability of these machines to hacking and fraud. Among them was Mr.Till Jaeger, a lawyer who got the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany to ban the use of these machines in that country; Mr.Rop Gonggrijp, a computer hacker from Netherlands who demonstrated on live TV how the machine could be hacked and Mr.Alex Halderman, Professor of Computer Science , University of Michigan, USA, who is an authority on electronic voting security. The most prominent Indian expert at these workshops was Mr.Hari Prasad of Hyderabad, who spoke about the ease with which EVMs could be tampered with and on how, irrespective of voters’ preferences, the machine could be pre-programmed to produce a result.