In a setback to the Election Commission (EC), its pilot poll conducted on Sunday to establish a paper trail for electronic voting machines (EVMs) reported significant errors.
Preliminary results of the EC pilot poll indicated discrepancies between votes polled in EVMs and the paper trail, according to three people involved and familiar with the testing process. Two of them are EC officials who confirmed the mismatch, but did not give any more details. EC will release a comprehensive report on the pilot poll in a few days.
“Even a difference of one vote is not acceptable,” said one of the EC officials, who, like the other EC official familiar with the matter, asked not to be identified given the controversial nature of the findings.
To be sure, the discrepancy does not necessarily vindicate the stand of critics who have argued that EVMs can be manipulated, but raises questions on the efficacy of the back-up system that EC was considering to enhance transparency in theelectoral process.
According to an analysis by the Citizens for Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Elections (VeTA), an activist group campaigning against EVMs, almost one in 20 votes polled in Delhi, one of the four places where the pilot poll was conducted, didn’t have a corresponding paper ballot. VeTA’s representatives were invited to be part of the election process.
“This definitely is some sort of embarrassment for us. However, these are not issues that cannot be resolved. They are…technical problems which are not difficult to sort,” said the second EC official.
Several political parties, including the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), too, claim EVMs are not tamper-proof and have been demanding a paper backup.
To assuage them, the trial –conducted in Leh (Jammu & Kashmir), Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala), Jaisalmer (Rajasthan) and in Delhi–tested the voter verifiable paper audit trail prototypes made by Bharat Electronics Ltd and Electronics Corp. of India Ltd. The pilot took place in Meghalaya on Tuesday.
The system on trial comprises an interface that connects an EVM to a printer and has a list of candidate details corresponding with the EVM. When a person votes for a candidate on the EVM, a paper ballot with a serial number, name and symbol of the candidate will be printed.
“There were 35,791 votes polled in Delhi, each of which had two paper backups. So of what should have been around 70,000 paper trails, around 3,500 were missing. This means there was an error rate of 5%,” said G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, president of VeTA, and a member of BJP’s electoral reforms committee.