Three years ago, I wrote of the controversy surrounding the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in India. A study by 2010 EFF Pioneer Award winner Hari Prasad and others showed that the EVMs could be hacked. For his troubles, Prasad was charged criminally for alleged theft of the EVM that was studied. The charges against Prasad have long since been dropped, but the controversy surrounding India’s electronic voting machines continues. Some have advocated that the EVMs be abandoned completely, and that India should go back to using old fashioned paper ballots. Others have claimed that the EVMs can be made more secure, but only if a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is added. For a significant time, the Election Commission of India continued to maintain that the EVMs were tamper proof. However, a number of different lawsuits were brought challenging the use of EVMs without VVPATs. The most significant was a public interest litigation action brought byDr. Subramanian Swamy. Yesterday, the Supreme Court of India ruled in favor of Dr. Swamy, reversing an earlier ruling by the High Court of Delhi.
… Yesterday’s ruling is a victory for more accountable voting in India, but it leaves some key questions unanswered. First, though the Supreme Court clearly had in mind the forthcoming 2014 general elections, it did not set a timetable for the ECI to fully implement the ruling. Thus, for now, there is no way of knowing how widely EVMs equipped with VVPATs will be deployed before those elections.
Second, the Court did not address the question of what should be done in places where the new EVMs are not deployed. If the paper trail is an “indispensable requirement of free and fair elections,” does that mean that the current EVMs (without VVPAT) cannot be used in the general election? If so, then will old-style paper balloting be used? Will use of the unequipped EVMs be permitted one more time? Will something else be used? Will the Court clarify its Judgment to insure that EVMS with VVPATs are deployed throughout India in time for the elections?
Perhaps anticipating such questions, the Court provided that the parties may return to the Court for further directions, if the need arises. Yesterday’s ruling is a victory, but we anticipate that the parties will be seeking further direction from the Court, and will be doing so soon.