Are Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) better than paper ballots?

Recently, a section officer was suspended after a reserve electronic voting machine (EVM) went missing in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur, where assembly polls were recently held on November 25.

Similar reports of theft, moving EVMs came out from Telangana, which just completed voting.

According to an FIR filed in the case, the reserved EVM of a control unit room went missing from an official’s car in Jodhpur on November 26, a day after the election was held.

This has raised questions yet again about the efficacy of EVMs mandated by the Election Commission of India (ECI) as opposed to traditional paper ballots.

Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail is an independent system [consists of two parts, namely, VVPAT Printer and VVPAT Status Display Unit (VSDU)] attached with the Electronic Voting Machines that allows the voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended.

When a vote is cast, a slip is printed containing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate and remains exposed through a transparent window for 7 seconds.

Thereafter, this printed slip automatically gets cut and falls in sealed drop box of the VVPAT.

Many argue that this system does not voter-verify as there is no method for dispute resolution, if a glitch occurs.

Are EVMs still better than paper ballots?

Ordinary paper ballots may be far easier to corrupt and tamper than EVMs. If EVMs are not verifiable, ordinary paper ballots are even less so, it could be argued.

With the introduction of electronic voting, there has been increased confidence in a fair election for a logistical nightmare that is the world’s largest democracy.

To establish the integrity of the EVM beyond all doubt, the VVPAT needs to be bulletproof. A voter should rest assured that the vote he or she cast as intended should be recorded as such

It is impossible to predict whether an EVM can be hacked or not, but standardization is the need of the hour, as all machines should be identical in the make.

To be realistic, elections must be conducted assuming that the EVMs may possibly be tampered with in a complex election such as India’s.

The only way to do so is to make the voting protocol independent of software glitches. VVPATs  aim to do just that, again if they are counted right.

The correct VVPAT protocol would be to allow a voter to approve the VVPAT slip before the vote is finally cast, and to provide an option to cancel her vote if a discrepancy is noticed.

The only way to do so, without trusting machines and buttons, is to allow the voter to obtain the VVPAT slip and cast it in a box herself.

Then, how is that any different from casting a simple paper ballot.

Perhaps that is the dilemma that the ECI faces.