How To Prevent Sore Losers From Blaming EVMs For Their Defeats

by R Jagannathan - Mar 16, 2017 01:00 PM +05:30 IST
How To Prevent Sore Losers From Blaming EVMs For Their DefeatsAn election worker closes up an EVM before sealing it after the final polls closed in Varanasi, India. (Kevin Frayer/GettyImages)
Snapshot
  • While we can dismiss the losers’ lament with the sneer it deserves, it would be a mistake to ignore the reality that this also calls into question the validity of an electoral outcome.

    The Election Commission of India must dispel all doubts for the future by putting in place robust cross-checking mechanisms, including the creation of paper voting trails.

The recent round of assembly elections saw the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh (UP) seeking to salvage wounded egos by blaming electronic voting machines (EVMs) for their defeat. But while we can dismiss the losers’ lament with the sneer it deserves, it would be a mistake to ignore the reality that this also calls into question the validity of an electoral outcome. The Election Commission of India must dispel all doubts for the future by putting in place robust cross-checking mechanisms, including the creation of paper voting trails.

In the recent elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) win in UP does not in any way sound unreasonable, given that it polled marginally fewer votes than in 2014. In fact, its relatively poor show in Goa and the Akali Dal-BJP defeat in Punjab also indicate that EVMs are unlikely to have been hacked. The post-poll doubts cast by the BSP and AAP are thus nothing more than efforts to discredit their winning opponents’ performance.

Given the Indian context, where there is a huge voting population – the largest in the democratic world – EVMs are thus unavoidable. But it is simply not possible to prove that they are infallible, and it serves nobody’s purpose to have election after election being called into question over the (remote) possibility of EVMs being tampered with.

There are simple – but possibly expensive – ways out. One is, of course, to have the whole process audited by tech experts and ethical hackers to figure out the chinks in the system that could be exploited for tampering with the actual vote. The Election Commission already offers what are called voter-verified paper audit trails (VVPATs), which allow a voter to print out her vote which can then be dropped into the ballot box. At a crunch, VVPATs can be counted to validate an EVM number count.

But VVPATs are not used in every voting booth or with every EVM, and this is what needs to be done by the next general elections in 2019.

However, we also need safeguards to prevent every sore loser from challenging vote counts repeatedly, making the election process not only hugely expensive, but also excruciatingly prolonged. The recent elections dragged on for nearly a month and a half; consider how long it would have dragged on if we had to order a recount in every single UP or Punjab constituency? The results probably wouldn’t be known till April. Given the constitutional requirement that there cannot be a gap of more than six months between two assembly sessions, elections to assemblies would have to be ordered five to six months in advance of actual D-day to make allowances for recounts.

The safeguards to prevent misuse of the recount option should include the following:

One, the margin of defeat should be sufficiently narrow to need a recount. Margins below 1 per cent of total votes cast could be a threshold.

Two, large scale vote recounts sought by political parties should seek costs from the parties concerned (as in the US), and additionally a 5 per cent backing from the effective electorate.

These two safeguards will prevent frivolous recounts ordered primarily due to the hurt egos of losers.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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