The myth of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) manipulation

The myth of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) manipulation

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There are allegations being made by certain sore losers that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were manipulated in the recently held 2017 Assembly Elections in 5 states. Certain sections of the media, for their own vested interests, are further instigating such rumours. The allegation of manipulating the EVMs are made against the Central Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Let it be first understood that elections are conducted by the Election Commission, and not by Central Government. Article 324 of the Constitution clearly lays down that the superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every State shall be vested in the Election Commission. The Chief Election Commissioner cannot be removed from his post except by the process of impeachment in Parliament on the ground of proved misbehaviour or incapacity. So, he has the same protection as a judge of the Supreme Court. Election Commission is a fully autonomous body created under the Constitution and it is not under the Government of India. Even the courts have very limited jurisdiction to interfere with the process of elections, as laid down in Article 329 of the Constitution.

It may also be highlighted that the present Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Syed Nasim Ahmad Zaidi was first appointed as Election Commissioner by the then Congress (UPA) Government in 2012 (and not by BJP Government). So, it cannot be alleged that he is the appointee of the present BJP Government.

Further, every state has a Chief Electoral Officer (CEO). The Election Commission nominates an Officer of the State Government as the Chief Electoral Officer in consultation with that State Government. Such Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) supervises the election work related to Assembly and Parliament elections. As per section 13A of the Representation of the People Act 1950, read with section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the Chief Electoral Officer of a State is authorised to supervise the election work in the State Territory subject to the overall superintendence, direction and control of the Election Commission.

Moreover, as per section 13AA of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, subject to the superintendence, direction and control of the Chief Electoral Officer, the District Election Officer (DEO) supervises the election work of a district. Generally, the Collector of the District is also the District Election Officer. The Collector is also under the State Government.

Then, there is a Returning Officer (RO) appointed for every parliamentary or assembly constituency, who is responsible for the conduct of elections in the parliamentary or assembly constituency concerned as per section 21 of the Representation of the People Act 1951. Returning Officer is also an officer of the State Government.

It may thus be seen that the Election Commission is a constitutional body which is completely independent of the Central Government. Other election officers, such as Chief Electoral Officer (at the state level), the District Election Officer (at the district level) and the Returning Officer (for every parliamentary or assembly constituency) are officers of the State Government, who work under the direction and control of the Election Commission for the purposes of the elections. These officers are in no way controlled by the Central Government.

It is noteworthy that police is a State subject under the Constitution. The security for the elections is primarily provided by the state police forces, who work directly under the State Governments concerned. Of course, Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are deployed to supplement the state police during elections, but such central forces can only assist the state police and are under the overall control of the election machinery.

It may thus be seen that the Central Government does not have any control over the elections or the election machinery in any manner.

The EVMs are under the direct control of the Election Commission and election officers mentioned above. These election officers control the election process, including control over EVMs, before and after election. The overall control over the whole election process, including the EVMs is exercised by the Election Commission.

Many safeguards are used in the EVMs. The courts have upheld the use of EVMs, and they are mechanically and electronically protected to prevent any tampering. Various preventive and precautionary measures have been put in place by the Election Commission for the operation, maintenance and storage of the EVMs and they cannot be tampered with. The safeguards for EVMs are implemented transparently with the involvement of political parties, candidates and their representatives at every stage to build their confidence on efficacy and reliability of EVMs. These EVMs cannot be connected to the Internet. The microchip used in EVMs is sealed at the time of manufacturing or import. It cannot be opened and any rewriting of program cannot be done by anyone without damaging the chip itself, which will then stop functioning. There is, therefore, absolutely no chance of programming the EVMs in a particular way to select any particular candidate or political party.

Before the commencement of poll, the Presiding Officer demonstrates to the polling agents present that there are no hidden votes already recorded in the machine, by pressing the result button. Thereafter, he will conduct a mock poll by asking the polling agents to record their votes and will take the result to satisfy them that the result shown is strictly according to the choice recorded by them. Thereafter, the Presiding Officer will press the clear button to clear the result of the mock poll before commencing the actual poll.

As soon as the last voter has voted, the Polling Officer in-charge of the Control Unit will press the ‘Close’ Button. Thereafter, the EVM will not accept any vote. Further, after the close of poll, the Balloting Unit of the EVM is disconnected from the Control Unit of EVM and kept separately. Votes can be recorded only through the Balloting Unit. Again the Presiding officer, at the close of the poll, will hand over to each polling agent present an account of votes recorded. At the time of counting of votes, the total will be tallied with this account and if there is any discrepancy, this will be pointed out by the Counting Agents.

After the election and till counting, the EVMs are safely stored and sealed in strong rooms, with full security. This is done transparently in the presence of the agents of all political parties. No person has access to these EVMs till the beginning of counting. At the time of counting, the security and sealing of each EVM is checked and shown to the agents of political parties.

Further, the Control Unit of each EVM has a unique ID Number, which is painted on each unit with a permanent marker. This ID Number is allowed to be noted by the Polling Agents and is also recorded in a Register maintained for the purpose by the Returning Officer. The address tag attached to the Control Unit also will indicate this ID Number. Therefore, there is no question also of replacement of any EVM.

With the type of safeguards in place, it is not possible to manipulate the EVMs. And, in any case, the control of these EVMs is not with the Central Government, but is with the Election Commission and/or with the election officers who are State Government officers.

Now, in the recent elections, BJP has got massive majority in Uttar Pradesh which was ruled by Samajwadi Party (SP). The question is how would SP allow BJP to manipulate the EVMs?

Likewise, in Uttarakhand, BJP got majority while the State Government was that of Congress. So, why would Congress allow manipulation of EVMs to BJP?

Similarly, in Punjab, the Akali Dal – BJP were ruling the State Government, but Congress won the election. Now, why would Akali Dal – BJP Government allow Congress to manipulate the EVMs?

Even in Goa, the BJP was the ruling party, but Congress won more seats in election. So, why would BJP allow manipulation of EVMs in favour of Congress?

If, at all, the State Governments were in a position to manipulate the EVMs, they would have done that in their own favour, and not in favour of the opposition parties who have won (or got more seats) in the above states.

And, as mentioned above, the Central Government is nowhere in control of the EVMs. But, even if it be presumed that the Central Government could manipulate the EVMs, then why did it not manipulate the EVMs in Punjab, Goa and Manipur to favour the BJP?

In fact, it is really surprising that Harish Rawat, the Congress Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, hinted at possible tampering of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to tweak the poll outcome when he himself controlled the State Government in Uttarakhand. If BJP-controlled Centre could tamper the EVMs in his state, then why could BJP-controlled Centre not tamper the EVMs in the states which were under the control of its own Governments (such as in Goa or Punjab)?

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister, alleges that EVMs have been manipulated in Punjab due to which Congress won. The question is both at the Centre and in Punjab, the Government is controlled by BJP – Akali Dal, then why would they manipulate the EVMs to make Congress win? Why would they do so when it is a known and declared objective of BJP to have “Congress-Mukt Bharat” (Congress-free India)? If at all the BJP – Akali Dal manipulated the EVMs in Punjab, why did they not do it for their own win and why for Congress win?

In fact, Kejriwal’s claims are laughable. Citing exit polls which predicted AAP would sweep the Punjab Legislative Assembly election, Kejriwal is reported to have questioned the outcome which was completely contrary to these forecasts in exist polls. He also said: “Many said there is anger against Akalis and the AAP is sweeping polls. Still, AAP got 25 per cent votes and SAD got 31 per cent, how is this possible?” So, it is clear that Kejriwal is saying that exit polls results should be acceptable as the actual results of the elections!!! And, this person occupies the post of Chief Minister of a Union Territory, i.e., Delhi!!! What type of persons we are electing as our Chief Ministers who believe exit polls but not the actual polls!!!

The fact of the matter is that even if it be presumed that AAP was getting some support in early days of election campaigning, during last few days before the elections, many voters changed their minds away from AAP and voted in favour of Congress (which was likely to win) to defeat AAP in view of the clear indications that AAP was being supported by the Khalistanis from abroad. A few terrorist-related incidents just before the election day in Punjab were sufficient for convincing many voters that AAP was not the right choice, keeping in view their bad experience with 15 years of Khalistani terrorism in Punjab. Perhaps, there was tactical voting, especially by Hindus, to defeat AAP to avoid a Khalistani-supported Government. So, who is to blame?

It is also noteworthy that using the same EVMs, Kejriwal’s AAP had won 67 out of 70 seats in Delhi Assembly elections in 2015, which was an unprecedented victory margin. In fact, at that time in 2015 also, the Central Government was ruled by the same BJP and even the Delhi Government was also under the control of the Central Government (since the Assembly had been dissolved and there was no Chief Minister at the time of the elections in 2015). So, why would BJP allow Kejriwal to get 67 seats out of 70 in the year 2015, if it had the option of manipulating the EVMs?

It appears that by blaming EVMs and calling for using the old ballot paper system instead of EVMs in the next month’s Delhi Municipal Elections (to be held on 22 April 2017), Kejriwal is trying to create an alibi for the potential loss in these elections. For, if he loses the Delhi municipal elections, his charisma will completely evaporate, given that in 2015 he had won a massive 67 out of 70 Assembly seats in Delhi. This is important because in Punjab, his vote share was not only behind Congress but also behind Akali-BJP; and in Goa his party could not win even a single seat and in fact 38 out of his 39 candidates in Goa lost even their deposits.

Then, there is BSP Chief Mayawati, who also alleges that her party lost because of EVMs. She has conveniently forgotten that in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, her party could not win even a single seat out of 80 seats in UP. Her party’s vote percentage is more or less the same even now. Moreover, why would Samajwadi Party manipulate the EVMs to make BJP win in UP? And, if the Central Government had the potential to manipulate EVMs in UP, then why did it not do in Punjab, Goa and Manipur? Further, in the past, Mayawati has won elections through the same EVMs.

In the ultimate analysis, it is the “sore losers” for whom it is a story of “sour grapes”, who are making these allegations of manipulation of EVMs, but without there being any logic to support the same. And, many media organisations, who have traditionally been anti-Modi, have got something to defame the Modi Government and to show it in poor light even after it huge victory in these elections. They are willing to do so even if it is at the cost of doubting the integrity of the election system, which is otherwise a sound system, at least in this regard, i.e., with regard to EVMs.

It is ironical that such senseless comments are made by those who have earlier been benefited by the same EVMs.

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