By Kabir Narang
In 2008, the Election Commission had approached the Law Ministry with a proposal to amend the Conduct of Election rules by introducing totaliser machines on counting day. The Commission argued that the introduction of these machines would enhance the secrecy involved in the voting process. A team of Union Ministers: Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar, Nitin Gadkari and Ravi Shankar Prasad was constituted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliberate on the idea until Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a letter dated 18 November 2016, told the Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi that the Committee of Ministers headed by Rajnath Singh had rejected the proposal.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh axed the move to introduce these machines because he argued that they would hamper polling booth management. What does this mean for the integrity of the voting process in a vibrant democracy like India?
The pros and cons
Before the introduction of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), votes were counted after mixing all ballot papers, which prevented the disclosure of voting patterns in every booth. With the use of EVMs, it is now easy to find out voting patterns in different areas. The totaliser machines, on the other hand, make the voting process more discrete by aggregating votes polled at fourteen polling booths together, as opposed to the current method of announcing booth-wise results.
In other words, the totaliser machines will essentially help connect all EVMs through a cable so votes from a constituency are registered and counted together.
This scenario has its disadvantages too. The use of these machines would prevent analyses of area-wise voting trends which can be used in the future to make voting processes more efficient. It also makes it difficult to study data related to voting preferences in a single area. The Election Commission has argued that a bias would be introduced since the identification of voting trends across regions would encourage candidates and political parties to specifically target areas where less voted were polled in their favor while other officials have argued that this will lead politicians to ignore the development of areas which did not vote them in.An officer demonstrates use of the electronic voting machine (EVM) during a training camp ahead at s school in Mumbai. | Photo courtesy: Hindustan Times
Political consensus, government inertia?
The fact, however, is this: many politicians from different parties have agreed with the use of the new machines but it is the government that has not yet given this plan its approval. According to the Commission, the Congress, NCP, AAP, and BSP have supported the proposal to use totaliser machines while the Trinamool Congress and the ruling BJP have not. The latter has argued that information relating to booth-wise performance is important for political parties to be able to manage their booths. In response, the Commission has suggested that the new machines be introduced in phases to ensure that it is fool-proof.
[su_pullquote]The machine prevents political parties from inferring information that can aid a better understanding of voter behavioural patterns.[/su_pullquote]
The introduction of the machine prevents political parties from inferring information that can aid a better understanding of voter behavioural patterns, while simultaneously protecting the voting preferences of the people of a region to protect them against biased, prejudiced politicians. The matter deserves more scrutiny than it has received, and it is sure to be a highly debated issue in the forthcoming sessions of the parliament.
Featured image: All India Word
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