Technology seems to be tripping up the electoral process in the world’s largest democracy with disturbing frequency. Of late, two key issues have threatened the right to franchise of many of India’s 800 million voters. One is a software that seems to be marking genuine voters’ names for deletion from the electoral rolls. The other is electronic voting machines (EVMs), which some believe are vulnerable to tampering. While complaints relating to these issues have done the rounds for years, the latest bout, involving a large number of such grievances, was sparked during the recent elections to five Indian state legislative assemblies. The most egregious complaints occurred in the south-central state of Telangana. On polling day (Dec.07) in the state, many voters were shocked to find their names missing from the electoral rolls. This followed the election commission of India’s (ECI) admission weeks before that up to 2.2 million names had been deleted by its software for being supposed duplicates.Some people, including international badminton ace Jwala Gutta, tweeted #whereismyvote in frustration.
EVMs, meanwhile, drew fire across Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Mizoram, besides Telangana. While there’s no proof that any of these machines were tampered with, many breaches in their physical security were reported. This included deviation from the prescribed method and mode of their transport or in the strongrooms where they were stored.
Regardless of the assertions that EVM rigging isn’t possible, some argue that the doubts over them can erode public faith in the electoral process. It is viewed as particularly important that voting stays simple and transparent in a country that is home to the largest illiterate population in the world.
“Electronics are never transparent. The poor man has always got this doubt in his mind,” said Arun Mehta, a technologist who in the late 1980s became one of the first in India to research and speak publicly about the vulnerabilities of EVMs. “The process needs to be sufficiently transparent so that the poor man who’s wasting his daily wage to go and vote should have confidence in the process.”