By Prarthana Mitra
Contrary to the Election Commission’s consistent denial, a concrete instance of an electronic voting machine (EVM) “malfunction” in Maharashtra was conclusively established by an RTI on Saturday. Within a week of this disclosure, several opposition parties came to a consensus about conducting the upcoming 2019 polls on ballot papers.
To stamp the paper or press the button?
Only two months back, the EC had reported, “News reports surfacing in the media alleging ‘large scale’ failure of EVMs and VVPATs in the ongoing by-elections and interruption of poll in the States of Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are an exaggerated projection of reality.” It had also posited that the malfunction during UP by-polls was due to extreme heat, a theory that even the centre denied last week.
Even with voter-verifiable paper audit trials (VVPATs), that are voluntary and could compromise the voter’s secrecy, tampering remains a possibility. Thus, amidst innumerable cases of EVM frauds and concerns raised by the opposition, a few parties have now collectively approached the ECI to push for ballot papers in the upcoming polls. Congress, TMC and 15 other regional parties have taken up cudgels against EVMs, considering paper ballot to be a more tamper-free option in the high-stake Assembly elections next year.
Reverting to old ways: A good idea or bad?
This is, however, not a recent development. Poll-tampering has been on the opposition’s lips since last year.
Prominent parties like the TMC, Congress, BSP, JD(S) and RJD have been very vocal about attributing BJP’s recent by-poll victories to rigged EVMs, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Nagaland. Leaders such as TMC’s Mamata Banerjee and Congress’ Rajeev Gowda have repeatedly protested against and questioned the neutrality of the EVM machines. On Wednesday, Banerjee had impressed upon the importance of bringing this up in the monsoon session of the Parliament, urging all opposition leaders, even Shiv Sena, to present a joint delegation to the EC over reports of EVM tampering.
The seventeen parties will first hold a joint meeting on Monday before tabling the issue in the Parliament and taking it up with the EC next week. While an overhaul in the current electoral exercise is solicited, regressing to paper ballots which were replaced for similar reasons, seems like a knee-jerk reaction to the problem at hand. Approval by the parliament and the EC is questionable considering that paper ballots are equally susceptible to tampering, if not more. Regardless of the result, the collective cause for a free and fair election to bringing the opposition closer together.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.