Sab ka Vishwas for the EVM and Election Process -Unfinished Agenda for Modi 2.0

During the final days running upto the 2019 elections, Congress and its Lutyen’s media created a controversy about EVMs that engaged the attention of the whole country including the Supreme Court. But for the resolve of the two of the Election Commission members, Chandrababu Naidu and Congress would have succeeded in disrupting the election process. By not accepting the demand for the first counting of VVPAT slips, EC perhaps saved the day.

Supreme Court Set a wrong Precedent

But it must be placed on record that the honourable Supreme Court failed to uphold the integrity of the Election Commission by acceding to the request of the opposition for counting VVPATs in 5 machines per constituency.

It is not a question of what is the harm in such counting even if the result had to be delayed by 4 hours?

The net result of the Supreme Court agreeing to the count of 5 VVPATs instead of one was that VVPATs were given a presumptuous recognition as if they were “Voting Slips” similar to the ballot papers of the olden day manual voting. Had the scenario speculated by the undersigned  , there would have been a constitutional crisis. Supreme Court would have been solely responsible for creating such a crisis.

As long as the Supreme Court cannot rid itself of the influence of a few politically motivated senior counsels who can set the agenda for the Court, such incidents will keep recurring. The CJI is personally facing the wrath of such advocates and their supporting lobby in his personal case which has eroded the reputation of the Court itself.

Hence the Government, Election Commission and the Supreme Court has to jointly work for the restoration of the faith in the electoral system and ensure that politicians donot sully the image of the election process as it suits them.

I therefore call upon the Modi 2.0 government to take necessary action to restore the faith of the EVM system in particular and the election system in general

I recently heard from a famous astrologer that the Government may introduce “Online Voting” in this term. This demand has been there primarily for enabling the NRI voters and further to improve the voting percentages. There is definitely merit in the demand but it needs to be approached with caution.

The problems with our electoral system now include

a) The Electoral rolls are not upto date and hence there could be genuine omissions of voters who move out from one address to another and also because political parties actually introduce bogus voters to rig the elections. There are many rogue state governments who would indulge in such practices with the possible assistance of the local officers of the election commission much before the election heat is generated. We therefore need to find measures to sanitize the electoral rolls.

b) The EVMs are not amenable to the kind of manipulation that Mr Kejriwal or Kapil Sibal are complaining because there are over riding physical security measures that are difficult to manipulate. But it is still possible to capture booths and force voters to vote for a particular party or for one party to simply create votes in the names of the voters without the voter being present. When there are state Governments like West Bengal and Kashmir or Kerala who cannot be easily disciplined even with the central security forces, “Booth Capturing” cannot be easily eliminated. We need to find measures to prevent such booth capturing.

c) The confusion created by the Supreme Court regarding the counting of VVPATs as a confirmation of the EVM count itself needs to be resolved legally and technically. This aspect has been discussed several times by the undersigned (Refer articles here). The legal position needs to be re-iterated and clarified so that we end the opposition to EVM arguments once and for all.

To address all these issues, I request the Government to take the following actions.

  1. Updation of Electoral Rolls

Consider updating the electoral rolls at every booth level through an online authentication process  through a three stage process.

First would be the self authentication by the voter himself for which he can provide appropriate KYC documents. The second would be by the EC officials. Upto this, the system would be similar to the present system.

The third (an addition to the current process) is by the other approved co-voters in the same constituency through a block chain method. The approval block chain in the third stage could fork if the voter’s entry is not approved by others. This should be recognized as a challenge and should be open to the voter producing necessary confirmation and also submitting himself to a penalty if his identity is proven to be wrong in a subsequent enquiry.

The three level approved voter’s list should be considered for further use as the official revision of the voter list.

The “Challenged Voter List” may be published separately by the EC from time to time so that the affected voters may take steps to get their names removed from the list if necessary.

Votes cast by those in the “Challenged Voter List” should be considered as “Provisional Votes” which may be recognized only during an election petition.

2.  Voting Surveillance

The present system of having Central forces in the booth is only having partial effect in ensuring fair polling. Since 100 % of the booths cannot be secured by the CRPF and the inability of polling officials to prevent lumpen elements taking over the process cannot be prevented, it is necessary that every voting booth has to be subject to an electronic surveillance through a CCTV which broadcasts the voting process to a public website which can be viewed by the voters.

The CCTV picture of every voter should be recorded so that it can be challenged later in an election petition. It goes without saying that “Burqua” or “Helmet” may have to be removed during the voting process.

3. EVM modification

Every EVM must be modified to have a touch sensitive screen on top on which the ballot paper appears as an image. When the button is pressed on the screen, the status of the screen with the voting mark has to be captured as a screen image, hashed and the hash value printed in the VVPAT. While the VVPAT will continue to show the image of the party etc as is done now to satisfy the voter, the printing of the hash of the image containing the copy of the ballot paper after voting along with the time stamp will provide an electronic evidence of the ballot cast. This will provide legal validation of the VVPAT as a copy of the ballot paper.

It must however be clarified that as long as the electronic voting is recognized by the Peoples Representation Act, the voting gets completed when the electronic signal arising due to the pressing of the button by the voter as generated by the screen on the EVM is stored in the memory of the EVM. The binary imprint on the EVM’s memory is the etching of the ballot cast.

After the casting of the vote, generation of the VVPAT is an acknowledgement created as a secondary copy of the original binary noted ballot. There should be technically no mismatch between the votes recorded in the EVM and the counted number of VVPAT slips. If however they do arise, then the EVM count should be considered as the more reliable and legally recognized vote and discrepancy if any should be subject to a discussion in an election petition only. At the time of such election petition the both official may be required to provide a Section 65B certificate to the batch of VVPAT slips relevant for the challenge.

I request that the Modi Government in its second term takes up this issue seriously and take remedial action. The Election Commission itself may take up these suggestions and submit its recommendations to the Government. The Government should submit the same to the Supreme Court as a suo moto review so that the Supreme Court should also  record its views without hiding behind the arguments of motivated advocates during a PIL on a later date.

It is necessary that the Government, the Election Commission and the Supreme Court work as a single responsible team to bring credibility to our electoral system rather than each blaming the other. We need each of these three bodies to express “Vishwas” on the other. “Vishwas” of these three will bring in “Vishwas” for the citizens on the electoral process.

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