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» History of Electronic Voting Machines in INDIA

 

FOUNDATION FOR ADVANCED MANAGEMENT OF ELECTIONS (FAME)

 

 HISTORY OF ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES IN INDIA

 

 

INTRODUCTORY

 

1.1          Election Commission of India has been trying to bring improvements in the election procedures taking advantage of the scientific and technological advancements.  On a suggestion by the Commission, two central government undertakings, namely, Electronics Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad & Bharat Electronic Limited, Bangalore produced Electronic Voting Machines.  The Electronic Voting Machine is a very versatile system for reliable conduct of elections in which one person has to be elected out of many contenders. It has been designed keeping in view the present system of elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies in India, but can be used in other countries also where a similar system of franchise exists and several countries have shown interest in these machines.

 

1.2          The Electronic Voting Machine is the end product of considerable experience and extensive trials at elections in different parts of India under the guidance of the Election Commission of India.  These machines were used for the first time during the General Election to the Kerala Legislative Assembly held in May, 1982.  To start with, Electronic Voting Machines were used in 50 polling stations of Parur Assembly Constituency in Kerala.  Thereafter, these machines were used in 1982-83 in ten other constituencies spread over the length and breadth of India.  These were tried even in the difficult and tribal areas of Northeast.  It was found by the political parties, candidates and the general electorate that the voting by means of these machines was far easier and simpler and consumed less time compared to the conventional system.  Further, the counting was absolutely trouble free and far quicker and the result of elections could be ascertained and announced within a few hours.

 

LEGAL SANCTION FOR THE USE OF EVMs

 

2.            The machine could not, however, be used after 1983 as the Supreme Court ruled in the Election Appeal (A.C.Jose Vs. Sivan Pillai & Others – AIR 1984 SC 921) arising out of the election petition relating to the use of the machines in the above mentioned election from Parur Assembly Constituency in Kerala that there should be specific provision in the law providing for use of EVMs in elections.  Thereupon, the Commission recommended to the Government to amend the law suitably to provide legal sanction for the use of EVMs.  The law has since been amended by Parliament in December, 1988 and a new section 61A has been inserted in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 empowering the Commission to use voting machines in such constituency or constituencies as it may, having regard to the circumstances of each case, specify.  The amended provision has come into force w.e.f. 15th March, 1989 and thus there is no legal hurdle in the use of machines at future elections.

 

DESIGN OF VOTING MACHINES

 

3.1          Meanwhile, the Commission has been in constant interaction with the Electronics Corporation of India & Bharat Electronics Limited for improvement of design and provision of additional facilities in the voting machines in the light of experience gained at the elections in which the machines were used in 1982-83.  The Commission ultimately finalised the design and model of the existing Electronic Voting Machines in May, 1989.

 

3.2          Electronic Voting Machines consist of two units – Control Unit and Balloting Unit, which are interconnected by a cable.  It is operated by a simple magnesium battery of 6 volts and, therefore, these can be used anywhere in the country.  The process of voting in the machine is so simple and quick that the experiments conducted in various areas showed that even an illiterate elector was able to handle the machine with ease and confidence.  The mechanism and the operation of the machine are also simple and the polling personnel will not find any difficulty in operating the machine.  The pace of polling is definitely quicker and correspondingly the time taken for the entire operation of one voter exercising his vote is considerably reduced.

 

3.3          The machine, especially the balloting unit, is so designed as to keep intact the essential features of the present method of voting and the only change is that the voter is required to press the button provided opposite the name and symbol of the candidate of his choice as against the use of Arrow Cross Mark Rubber Stamps which is to be put on the ballot paper on or near the symbol of his choice.  All the safeguards taken under the present system in making the election procedure fool-proof against temporability and violation of secrecy are fully maintained. 

 

IMPROVEMENTS MADE IN THE ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHJINES AFTER THEY WERE USED IN 1982-83.

 

4.1                  i) The present machine is capable of being used at simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha.

ii) The votes can now be recorded for both elections separately in the same control unit.

iii) Result of both elections will be available separately.  Further, it is possible to ascertain the result of only one election, if it is decided that the votes for the other election should not be counted for the time being.

 

4.2          The machines are now capable of being used in constituencies where the number of contesting candidates is upto 64. 

 

4.3          An objection was raised before the Supreme Court that the High Court, trying an election petition, will not be in apposition to take into account the tendered votes after rejecting the vote cast by an impersonator. This is now possible with the help of a special gadget which is kept only with the Election Commission and operated only on a direction by the High Court. 

 

4.4          An additional switch has been provided to indicate the ‘end of poll’ after the close of poll so that no vote can be recorded thereafter in any case. 

 

4.5          The pace of poll has been regulated and not more than five votes per minute can now be recorded which considerably reduces the incidence of booth capturing.

 

4.6          The machines are now capable of retaining the memory of the votes recorded for a period of three years.

 

4.7          The exterior designs of the control unit and the balloting unit have been improved so as to give a better aesthetic look.  The various compartments in which different switches are located have also been changed to ensure easy operation.

 

4.8          Packing cases of the machines have also been improved so that the machines can be transported easily and can also be preserved more safely.

 

ADVANTAGES OF THE ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES

 

5.1          Use of ballot papers in lakhs for every constituency will be dispensed with.  This will result in tremendous saving of paper and cost of printing.

 

5.2               Use of ballot boxes is completely eliminated. The number of other items of polling materials and stationery will also be drastically reduced.

 

5.3               (a) A great reduction in number of polling personnel will be possible.

                (b) Number of vehicles used for transportation will also be greatly reduced.

 

5.4          The voting will become far easier, quicker and smoother.

 

5.5          There will be total elimination of invalid votes

 

5.6          Result of the election can be ascertained on the day of poll itself.  This will result in tremendous savings on bandobast arrangements for safe storage of ballot boxes before they are taken up for counting, elaborate law and order arrangements on the day of counting etc.

 

5.7          No rigging is possible at the time of counting.  All complaints about irregularities and illegalities in counting which are being often made now would be totally eliminated.

 

5.8          The minimum campaign period can be reduced from 20 days as at present to any reasonable shorter period.  (The present 20 days minimum period has been prescribed keeping in view the fact that crores of ballot papers have to be printed during this period at the time of a general election).

 

5.9          Combination of two or more polling stations located in the same premises is possible as one machine can record as many as 3840 votes.

 

5.10        Provision of mobile polling stations is also a distinct possibility.

 

5.11        The machines run on battery and no special power like electricity etc. is needed.

 

HOW RIGGING CAN BE CHECKED BY EVMS

 

6.1          At present, if a polling booth is captured by force, hundreds of ballot papers can be marked unauthorisedly and put into the ballot box by several persons in a matter of few minutes.  This will not be possible in the electronic voting machines as the machine has been so regulated at the instance of the Commission that it will be capable of recorded a maximum of five votes per minute.  Thus even for recording about 100 bogus votes, the booth capturing partly will have to stay in one polling both for about 20 to 25 minutes.  There is every possibility of the booth capturers being apprehended by the law and order enforcement authorities if they stay in any polling station for such long periods.

 

6.2          A special switch has been provided in the control unit by pressing which the Presiding Officer can stop the poll and no votes can be recorded thereafter.  Thus, there is no possibility of any bogus votes being polled after the close of poll and during the transit of the machines from the place of poll to the counting centres.

 

6.3          An alert Presiding Officer can also make use of the above mentioned special switch if he apprehends any attempt at booth capturing and can thus frustrate the attempt of the booth capturers to record bogus votes.

 

6.4          A vote once recorded is incapable of being tampered with.  Thus, there will be total elimination of complaints of all types relating to illegalities/irregularities in the counting of votes and manipulation of result by such illegalities/irregularities in counting.

 

6.5          If the machine is tampered with, in any respect, either during the course of the poll or any time before the counting of votes, that would be easily detectable.  Thus a fresh poll can be taken at the affected polling station(s) and the mischief makers will be frustrated in their attempts at booth capturing/casting of bogus votes.

 

6.6          The signature/thumb impression of a voter is now obtained in a register (instead of on the counter foil of the ballot paper as under the existing system).  This register can be made open to inspection for collection of documentary evidence by any person desiring to file an election petition to challenge an election on the ground of impersonation of bogus voting.  This facility is not available under the present system as the counterfoils of used ballot papers are not open to inspection except under the orders of a competent court.

 

PROCUREMENT OF 1,50,000 ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINES

 

7.1          On the removal of the legal obstacle in the use of Electronic Voting Machines with the amendment of the law in December, 1988 as aforesaid, the Commission decided to switch over the Electronic Voting Machines system in a phased manner, keeping in view, particularly, the financial constraints.  In the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 1988 which sought insertion of the above mentioned section 61A in the Representation of the People At, 1591, it was indicated that in the beginning machines would be used in sensitive constituencies.  It was decided to procure 1,50,000 Electronic Voting Machines in the first phase and for the purpose the Government’s financial sanction of Rs.75 crores (@ Rs.5000/- per machine including packing and forwarding charges, freight and insurance charges etc.) was received by the Commission in April, 1989.  As the Commission desired to use the machines at the then ensuing general election to Lok Sabha, 1989, all modalities with regard to production and supply of machines by the two manufacturing Corporations were worked out by the Commission on top priority basis.  All the Government Departments concerned also recorded to priority to the project and gave necessary clearance as also necessary import licence, etc., for import of machinery and components on highest priority basis.  The production and supply schedule was so fixed that all the 1,50,000 machines would be made available by 15th December, 1989.

 

7.2          However, the plans of the Commission to use the Electronic Voting Machines at the general election to Lok Sabha, 1989 could not materialise.  The poll for the said general election was held in November, 1989 instead of the later half of December, 1989 or the early part of January 1990 as earlier contemplated by the Commission and not enough machines were available by then to be pressed in service.  Adequate time was also not available to impart practical training to polling personnel and to familiarise the voters at large in the operation of these machines.  In the next place, some important leaders of the opposition political parties expressed serious doubts and apprehensions with regard to the functioning of the machines and alleged about their imperability to favour the then ruling party.  The Commission considered it desirable not to use the machines till their credibility was fully established and all doubts and apprehensions lingering in the minds of the political parties, candidates and general public in this behalf were dispelled and set at rest. In the light of these developments, the production and supply schedule of the machines was modified and it was so arranged that the machines could be supplied by both the corporations by 31st March, 1990.

 

7.3          Accordingly, both the Corporations produced 1,50,000 machines by 31/3/1990.  The Commission has distributed those machines proportionately among all the 32 states and Union Territories having regard to the number of Parliamentary constituencies and polling stations in those States and Union Territories.

 

CREDIBILITY OF MACHINES

 

8.            As mentioned above, one of the main reasons for not using the machines now lying with the CEOs is the doubt raised by some political parties about the credibility of the machines and their fool;-proof working.  The government referred this matter to the Electoral Reforms Committee appointed by it in February, 1990 and consisting of representatives of several recognised National and State parties.  The machines were demonstrated before that Committee and thou that Committee was satisfied about their functioning they, in turn, appointed another Technical Experts Committee for technical evaluation of the machines.  The Technical Experts Committee comprising of Prof. S. Sampath, Chairman, RAC, Defence Research Development Organisation, Prof. P.V.Indiresan, IIT, Delhi, Dr. C.Rao Kasarabada, Director, Electronics Research and Development Centre, Trivandrum examined the machines minutely from all technical angles and they recommended the use of the machines without further loss of time.  That Committee recorded its appreciation of the high level accomplishment of the engineers and scientists of BEL, Bangalore and ECIL, Hyderabad in developing these machines by using latest technology.  Based on this report of the Technical Experts Committee, the Committee of Electoral Reforms recommended to the Central Government in May, 1990 that the machines should be put to use at all future bye-elections and general elections to Lok Sabha and State Assemblies and also Panchayats and Local Bodies.

 

USE OF EVMs AT ALL FUTURE BYE-ELECTIONS

 

9.            The machines were not used at the last general elections to Lok Sabha and certain State Legislative Assemblies held in May-June, 1991, as these elections became due suddenly because of premature dissolution of those Houses  and there was not enough time to familiarise and educate the electorate about the use of these machines and to train the polling personnel in the operation of those machines.  Thereafter, the Election Commission could not use these machines until October 1998 on the ground that the number of contesting candidates had been on a steep increase rendering the use of these machines difficult and that the political parties, candidates and the general electorate had to be convinced about the error free and tamper proof functioning of these machines.

 

 USE OF EVMS IN 1998 AND THEREAFTER

 

9.1          Finally, after interaction with political parties, the Election Commission took a historic decision to go ahead and start the use of EVMs at the general elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi held in November 1998.  For this purpose, after detailed review of all relevant factors, the Commission selected 16 assembly constituencies spread over the three states.  These constituencies were carefully chosen on the basis of their compact character and adequate infrastructure to manage the logistics for introducing EVMs for elections.

 

9.2          The successful launching of this programme was a challenging task for the Election Commission.  For the first time, electronic technology was being introduced in the electoral field and this involved a well-coordinated action plan keeping in view specific requirements of stakeholders.  The most important were the voting public, apart from the political parties, the candidates, their agents and the vast number of electoral staff directly involved in the election work in these constituencies.

 

9.3          In June 1999 general election was held for the Goa Legislative Assembly.  Goa has two Parliamentary Constituencies and 40 Assembly Constituencies.  On the basis of the successful handling of the programme for using EVMs in November 1998 and February, 1999, the Election Commission wanted to go forward in a bold initiative to cover an entire State Assembly Elections with the use of EVMs.  Accordingly, Goa was selected as the first state for this historic initiative.  For this purpose, the strategies, already adopted, of arranging comprehensive training for all stakeholders, massive publicity and awareness campaign and meticulous monitoring and supervision were put in place.  A massive publicity and awareness campaign and meticulous monitoring and supervision were put in place.  A massive awareness campaign through the Doordarshan and All India Radio was launched.  Besides, hoardings, handbills, posters and cable TV were used for the awareness campaign.  Demonstrations of the machines were also arranged on a large scale covering various localities in the whole State.  As a result of the comprehensive planning and close supervision by Election Commission, Goa became the first State to successfully use EVMs in all its Assembly Constituencies for the general election, to elect a new State Assembly to universal approval.

 

9.4          Taking into account the rich experience gained during the experimental use in November 1998 and February 1999 and coverage of a complete state in June 1999, the Election Commission, during the General Elections in 1999 for Lok Sabha and a few State Assemblies, decided to extend the programme by a greater magnitude.  Accordingly, after detailed study of the feasibility of using EVMs, the Election Commission decided to extend their use to 45 Parliamentary Constituencies for electing the 13th Lok Sabha.  These involved  17 States and 3 Union Territories, covering 45 Parliamentary Constituencies and 62,360 polling stations.  The number of electors covered was almost 60 million, which is larger than the population of many countries in the globe.  Goa, Delhi, Chandigarh and Pondicherry were fully covered by the EVMs.  In Delhi, the EVMs covered all the seven Parliamentary Constituencies with 9,132 polling stations.

 

9.5          The programme involved mobilisation, not only of a large number of about 1,00,000 EVMs but also of a very large number of electoral staff for conducting elections using EVMs, selecting trainers for each State and training them in good time helped in providing comprehensive training to these personnel.  This ensured that the training of a large number of staff could be carried out with local resources. Three films, specifically targeted for the election staff, the voting public and the political parties and their representatives, were prepared through the Films Division, Government of India.  In addition, a variety of new software for publicity and awareness campaign was also developed locally drawing upon the experience and expertise from the State that had already used the EVMs on the earlier occasions.

 

9.6          One new challenge faced by the Election Commission in these general elections, was conduct of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies using EVMs.  This involved Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the States for which new Assemblies were also being elected along with the 13th Lok Sabha.  Two separate machines were used for the simultaneous elections in each polling station.  The ballot papers for the two elections placed behind the acrylic sheet on the balloting unit was of deferent colours.  In order to ensure that there was no mix-up, the Commission issued detailed instructions about pairing of the Control & Balloting units and also about arrangements inside the polling stations.  These were supplemented by the detailed drawings indicating the arrangements.  It is gratifying to note that the Commission was able to complete the process of conducting elections in these 45 Parliamentary Constituencies and 102 Assembly Constituencies without any difficulty.  The results for these constituencies were also declared very fast.  In many cases, the results were available within 2-3 hours.  This gave a countrywide spread of the technology of use of EVMs.

 

9.7          The expansion of the use of EVMs was further continued in the general election to the Haryana Legislative Assembly held in February 2000.  It was decided to use EVMs in all assembly segments of Karnal and Rohtak parliamentary constituencies.  Besides, one assembly constituency in each district was selected for use of EVMs.  In all, EVMs were used in 45 assembly constituencies out of 90 assembly constituencies in the State.  There was large scale appreciation by the electorate for the use of EVMs. 

 

9.8          In the light of the excellent performance of EVMs and their successful deployment in several rounds of general elections and bye-elections for Lok Sabha and Assembly Elections, the Election Commission received requests from many State Election Commissioners to allow them to use the EVMs for election to Local Bodies.  The Commission considering their requests decided on a policy to make available to State Election Commissions the Electronic Voting Machines for conducting the elections to Local Bodies.  In pursuance of the said policy decision, the Commission loaned 4,000 EVMs to the State Election Commission of West Bengal for conducting elections to Local Bodies in Calcutta during the month of June 2000.  Similarly, these machines have also been used for local body elections in the States of Kerala & Rajasthan.

 

9.9          Out of 1,01,245 machines used in Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections between 1998 & 2000, only 12 machines were found to have developed some defects in operation or problem of memory.  This is a very small percentage of 0.001.  There was also no difficulty in declaring the results in these cases in order that such defects do not recur the working of EVMs was further reviewed with the representatives of manufacturing firms.  Amongst other items, the above mentioned cases of memory failure, buzzer failure and battery failure in the use of EVMs was discussed.  The technical teams of ECIL & BEL have further discussed this matter amongst them selves and have intimated incorporation of certain improvements in the new machines to be manufactured by them.  These improvements include provision of an additional set of memory device to double the existing capacity to store data, use of an improved quality buzzer and developing an auxiliary display unit which can be connected to the Control Unit to read and display the data stored.  The Election Commission is confident that with these improvements it would be possible to meet the rare contingencies of memory failures and to make successful the use of EVMs in future elections.

 

                PROCUREMENT OF MORE EVMS.

 

10.          The Commission, on making a comprehensive assessment and seeing the highly favourable response of the political parties, candidates, general public and the press about successful use of the EVMs in the aforesaid general elections and bye-elections, took up with the Government of India the need to purchase more EVMs for use during the general elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Pondicherry which were held in April-May 2001.  The Government of India accepted its proposal and provided Rs.150.00 crores for the purchase of EVMs.  The Commission placed order for manufacture of 1,38,000 EVMs on the two firms.  The supply of newly manufactured EVMs was completed by the end of March 2001.

 

11.          The Commission successfully conducted the General Elections to the State Legislative Assemblies of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Pondicherry in 2001 entirely  through the use of Electronic Voting Machines.  In these elections, EVMs were used in 140,965 polling stations covering total electorate 120,320,125.

 

                CHALLENGES BEFORE COURTS REGARDING USE OF EVMS.

 

12.1        AIDMK joined by some other allied parties challenged the holding of general elections to the State Legislative Assembly, 2001 with the use of EVMs in Madras High Court on the ground that the EVMs could be tampered with, doctored or manipulated to further a particular party or candidate at the election.  This petition was dismissed by the High Court as the petitioner parties could not substantiate their allegations regarding thetamperability of the EVMs.  The High Court further expressed satisfaction over the functioning of the EVMs on the basis of material produced by the Election commission and the manufacturing companies.  The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court.

 

12.2        In an election petition filed before the Karnataka High Court, alleging therein that the EVMs were manipulated to ensure the election of the winning candidate, the Court examined the scientist who was the Co-Designer for the EVMs in the Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangalore as witness and thereafter expressed its satisfaction with the tamper proof working of the EVMs.  The court further observed that “this invention (EVM) is undoubtedly a great achievement in the electronic and computer technology  and a national pride”.                      

 

13.3        Some other parties also expressed dis-satisfaction about the error-free and tamper free functioning of the EVMs and raised their apprehensions before the Delhi High Court in 2004.  In this petition, the petitioners stated that the various opinion and exit polls in connection with general election to the House of the People in 2004 predicted the outcome of election in favour of the ruling alliance, whereas the results were in favour of the opposition.  The Delhi High Court found no merit in the petition and dismissed the same as withdrawn.     

 

13.4        The Bombay High Court (Nagpur Branch) also dealt with a similar allegation in an election petition alleging therein that the EVMs can be tampered with.  The petitioner in this case provided some witnesses who claimed to be experts in the field of electronics and electronic gadgets.  These witnesses admitted before the Court that the software and hardware used in EVMs were not known to any one of them or the public at large and also that the data and other information used in the EVMs was not made open.  They stated that tampering of EVMs was possible only if the persons have access to the EVMs and have full knowledge of the technique and data brought in use in these machines.

 

                STORAGE OF EVMS

 

14.          The Commission has decided that during the non election period storage of Electronic Voting Machines should be under the direct custody of Chief Electoral Officers.  The Chief Electoral Officers should decide storage accommodation for keeping the Electronic Voting Machines during the non-election period.  The Electronic Voting Machines, which during the election period are under the custody of District Election Officers should be shifted and taken over by the Chief Electoral Officers immediately after the expiry of a period of six months from the date of declaration of result of an election.  However, in cases where there are election petitions or other court cases, the machines may be taken over and shifted by the Chief Electoral Officers after the election petition or other court cases are finally disposed of by the Courts.  The Chief Electoral Officers shall maintain a consolidated stock register of all the machines available in the state and regulate their movement.

 

                De-coding of EVMs by Election Commission

 

15.1        As already stated in Para 4.3, the Election Commission  has special gadget with the help of which it can take into account the tendered votes after rejecting the vote cast by an impersonator, on the direction of competent court.  The EVMs were decoded twice so far to identify votes of impersonators.  Ms. Beena Krishnan, defeated candidate at the local body election in the Palkulangara division of the Kollam Corporation  filed an election  petition alleging that a number of invalid votes were cast in favour of her rival, following which the court sought the services of experts from the Electronic Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad, to identify the votes polled by impersonators for which tendered votes have been recorded, with the help of the decoder in the custody of the Election Commission.  On 11th September, 2001, the decoder was brought to the chamber of the Addl. Munisiff by Shri K.J.Rao, Secretary, Election Commission and the team of experts from the Electronics Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad.  The team of experts   successfully decoded the EVM in the presence of the Addl. Munisff who had, after taking into account these decoded votes which showed for which of the candidates each of those votes had been cast, declared that Beena Krishnan, the petitioner was elected from the Palkulangara division, defeating her CPI(M) rival Ajitha by a margin of one vote.  It was for the first time in the country that an electronic voting machine was decoded.

 

15.2          The second time the EVM was decoded was in the High Court of Kerala.  In an election petition filed by Mr. Ahammed Kabeer, it was alleged that 31 votes had been cast improperly in the names of persons who were either dead or absent, or were cast by impersonation.  The High Court got these thirty one votes, which were recorded in the machines used at different polling stations, decoded with the help of the special gadget kept in the custody of the Election Commission of India.  After taking into account these decoded votes which showed for which of the candidates each of those votes had been cast, the High Court dismissed the election petition.  The Supreme Court also upheld the judgement of the Kerala High Court on 10 April 2003, approving the fact that in the present version of EVM it is possible to get at the disputed impersonated votes by decoding.

 

     

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