The demand to bring back paper ballots in the next Lok Sabha elections in place of electronic voting machines (EVMs) being pressed by major opposition parties has not found favour with two former chief election commissioners, who, however, share their opposition to a proposal for simultaneous elections, saying it cannot be “coerced”.
The former chiefs of the Election Commission say that though both the issues are theoretically in the realm of possibility, but, practically, they are neither feasible nor desirable.
They were reacting to a planned move by 17 parties, including the Congress and the Trinamool Congress, to approach the election commission to press for restoring the paper ballot system in view of the possibility of their manipulation and the failure of the VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) slips in recent elections.
VS Sampath, who demitted office in January 2015 after nearly three years at the helm of the Election Commission, said going back to paper ballots “makes no sense”.
“Nobody will accept it,” Mr Sampath told IANS.
He said with the introduction of VVPAT slips, which the Election Commission has said would be deployed throughout the country in all elections hereafter; there is already a paper ballot system that is going to be in place.
“VVPAT is a credible system by which the voter knows whom he has voted for and his ballot slip has gone into a box which can be retrieved at any time in case of a dispute for verification. It does the job of paper balloting that leaves an audit trail,” he added.
To remove doubts in the minds of political parties, Mr Sampath said the Commission could think of increasing the proportion of counting slips in consultation with parties. The quantity of sampling of slips can be increased.
Another former election body chief, who declined to be named, said, “While people are talking of returning to the ballot papers, let’s revisit how and why we switched to the machines in the first place. There were many serious issues with the ballot papers. Firstly, it is not an environment-friendly method. So many ballot papers would need cutting of innumerable trees. On the other hand, EVMs, once made, can be used over and over again.”
“Secondly, there was the issue of a large number of invalid votes. If a voter failed to put the stamp correctly, if the stamp touched the margins, the vote would be deemed invalid. This invariably resulted in disputes at the time of counting. Also, the counting of votes took a very long time, he said.
The former Election Commission chief said there were also cases of booth capturing and ballot papers being forged. This led to frequent countermanding of polls.
It was in this background that it was decided to hold the elections with machines. The EVMs are tamper-proof — unless you get hold of one and change the motherboard. But you will need to steal a very large number of machines and then restore them back to the EC strong room that has multi-layered security, without anyone knowing about it, in order to actually influence an election, he said.
Asked about opposition’s suspicions that chips can be installed in EVMs that can make them behave in a particular way for a specific time and then return to normal, he said: “I don’t think that is possible.” “What happens is that when a party has huge expectations of winning the polls but fails, it resorts to blaming the EVMs. They can’t blame the voters because then the voters may teach them a more bitter lesson in the next elections,” he said.
He acknowledged that “large scale” failure of VVPATs in recent bypolls — for technical reasons or whatever — has created another controversy.
On the issue of simultaneous elections, Mr Sampath said: “Elections are held as per law of the land and they cannot be coerced.” He said simultaneous elections should come in the “natural course and cannot be coerced”.