Thanks to a device that is the size and shape of a mini piano keyboard, India can boast that the country’s voters, all 814.5 million of them in 543 constituencies, can cast their ballot electronically, even in areas that have just one person. The 1.8 million electronic voting machines being used in this year’s elections, manufactured by Bharat Electronics and Electronic Corporation of India, both government companies, have been designed to adapt to the logistical challenges in India, where roads can be nonexistent and the electricity supply erratic. The machines are small enough to carry by hand and require only a six-volt alkaline battery. With one-third of India’s adult population illiterate, the voting machines feature both a list of candidates’ names and their party symbol. “The introduction of electronic voting machine was India’s biggest electoral reform,” said Manohar Singh Gill, India’s former chief election commissioner who supervised the 1999 election, the last one that used paper ballots. “The biggest disputes in paper ballots used to be on which vote is invalid and which is not. Recounting used to take days, and more disputes would emerge.”
In eliminating the need for paper ballots, India not only reduced the number of invalidated ballots to 0.05 percent from 1.91 percent in 1999, but it also saved hundreds of thousands of trees.
Navin Chawla, a former chief election commissioner who supervised the 2009 general elections, said that according to one estimate, if the current election were to use paper ballots, India would have needed to cut down 282,240 trees. In 1999, he said, the general election used 7,700 metric tons of paper.
This year is the third national election in which all voting is conducted electronically, but the use of the machines in India dates to 1982 in the southern state of Kerala. However, an Indian court ruled then that the machines were illegal because the law at the time allowed only paper ballots. Parliament changed the law in 1989.