The apex court has closed the debate around VVPATs but they have to be factored in next time
Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, many political parties have been crying wolf about the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) malfunctioning across the country and have been protesting to all and sundry, even though it appears that the public at large has not really been interested in the debate. Their latest approach to the Supreme Court demanding that the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system be used more intensively during the current general elections was a lost cause any which way, with the poll process largely complete. The court dismissed the petition with just two phases remaining and it being impossible for the Election Commission (EC) to change machines now. Criticism has been a constant since these machines made their debut, the loudest cries before 2014 being ironically made by the BJP in the aftermath of the 2009 elections.
But can VVPAT machines be brought into more widespread use going forward so as to allay fears that the machines can be tampered with to benefit one party or another? Yes, it must be done. However, one has to remember that in India with 900 million potential voters and 600 million plus votes cast, the scale of VVPAT issues can be mind-numbing and the extent of recounts has to be managed. Otherwise the political turmoil that will invariably follow contested elections could go on for weeks if not months, and India cannot afford that. So while more machines should have VVPAT printers and storage, if any political party or candidate demands a recount or an audit, they should be made to pay, just like those students who want their examination papers re-evaluated. The sum of money should be significant enough to pay for the hundreds of staff required to conduct such an exercise. Meanwhile, the EC must use more authentication units before the polls to weed out counterfeit/tampered EVMs, progress on which has been slow. It can fix a uniform sample size for hand-counting VVPAT slips for all constituencies. And it should fix a margin of error before ordering an automatic recount. The process may be time-taking but would ensure credibility of devices among voters. India must not return to the days of paper ballots, and as we have been noticing in these elections, the problem is more to do with booth security rather than the EVMs.
Courtesy: The Pioneer