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Why am I exhorting citizens for a satyagrah to force ECI to 'at least rethink' on EVM

By Sandeep Pandey*  

As election fever rises and political parties get busy with campaigning, one issue which refuses to die even after elections have been declared is that of Electronic Voting Machine and the accompanying Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. 
Outside the government establishment and the ruling party circles there is a widespread disenchantment with the EVM-VVPAT system. An ordinary illiterate villager from Hardoi, Unnao or Sitapur districts of Uttar Pradesh will tell you that she is not sure where her vote is going after she presses the EVM button. 
Banarsi, resident of Village Chandpur Faridpur in Mehmoodabad tehsil of District Sitapur says that in last election he pressed the election symbol of Elephant on EVM but saw Lotus in the glass of VVPAT and therefore doesn’t have any faith in EVM.
An Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and New Jersey trained engineer Rahul Mehta, who also runs a political party by the name of Right to Recall Party, has designed a machine where he demonstrates how the black glass, introduced in 2017, hides the way in which votes are stolen by EVM and VVPAT combine. 
A voter when casts her vote will be able to see the symbol in VVPAT to which she has voted. But while every vote to the preferred symbol is printed as a separate slip inside VVPAT, for consecutive votes to any other symbol only the first vote is printed, shown to the remaining consecutive voters by light bulb which goes on for 7 seconds inside the VVPAT for each voter and rest of the votes are printed as the preferred symbol. 
This is how the machine has been programmed. To make the preferred symbol win the election by stealing votes from other candidates.
Now Rahul Mehta is not claiming that this is what actually happens in the EVM-VVPATs used by the Election Commission of India but he is just demonstrating a possibility of how votes can be stolen if somebody decides to do that. Neither is he claiming that this is being done everywhere. 
But if the ruling party wants, with the help of sympathetic computer programmers, systems managers and officials, it can manipulate the machines in some constituencies, especially where it fears losing by small margins.
There are a range of voices against EVM and proposed alternatives. Right now only five booths in an assembly constituency, which has roughly 300 booths, are randomly chosen to tally the figures from EVM and VVPAT. Some people demand the 100% counting of VVPATs should be done and tallied with EVM figures. 
However, Rahul Mehta’s contraption shows that votes can be manipulated in both the EVM and VVPAT and can perfectly tally without revealing that votes were stolen from candidates who stand opposite to the preferred party candidate. Some others suggest that VVPAT slips should be handed over to the voter who then should deposit it in a box which has no electronic chip and these slips should be counted. 
Now, if we’re going to count slips printed by VVPATs collected in an ordinary box, we might as well count the ballot papers after they have been stamped by the voter and deposited in a ballot box. What is the need to keep the EVM-VVPAT between the voter and the paper slips/ballot paper? 
EVM-VVPAT really becomes redundant in this case serving no purpose like efficiency or quick results for which it was brought in, in the first place. It’ll be there merely as a show piece just to make us feel good that we’re using modern technology.
Mahatma Gandhi’s views on automobiles apply here very well. He said transportation is a human need, not its rapidity. Why can’t we spend some extra time and effort but ensure that the elections are free and fair?     
Hence it appears that bringing ballot papers back for assembly and parliamentary elections is the most wise solution. The local bodies’ elections are anyway held with ballot papers. This implies that bureaucratic machinery to conduct polls with ballot papers is already in place. And we do print ballot papers even in assembly and parliamentary elections for government employees who have to vote through postal ballots and senior citizens above 85 years of age who vote from their homes. Hence all we need to do is to print ballot papers in larger numbers. 
A number of countries, including developed ones, have gone back to ballot paper. The argument against ballot papers that they too could be stolen holds less weight now with the availability of cameras. In the Chandigarh Mayoral elections fudging of ballot papers was caught on the camera. 
Had the same thing been done through the EVM-VVPAT it would not have been caught as what happened inside the machine is hidden from everybody, including the unsuspecting officials overseeing the polls.
I’ve taken a stand that during this election when I go to vote on 20 May at my polling booth in Springdale School in Indira Nagar I’ll demand a ballot paper. If it is not provided to me then I’ll simply walk out without voting. I’ve informed the Election Commissioners through an e-mail and handed over a letter to District Magistrate, Lucknow, who is my returning officer.  This is not boycott of election. I would certainly very happily vote for the INDIA Alliance candidate if I were given a ballot paper.
My friends are saying this is unwise step as it’ll take away the INDIA alliance votes. But I believe that number of people who’ll participate in this Satyagrah will be smaller than the difference between the winning candidate and the runners up, implying that our action will not affect the final result in that constituency.
However, what may happen is if a significant number of citizens decide to participate in the Satyagrah from many constituencies, the Election Commission of India may be forced to think of, if not removing the EVM-VVPAT completely, at least providing the option of ballot paper to people like me who have no trust in the EVM-VVPAT system.
A number of well wishers are advising me not to do this but I see no other way of making the Election Commission of India come out of its reticence and apathy and take a decision in favour of ballot paper. If anybody can suggest me a more effective way of taking this struggle forward I’ll be happy to reconsider my stand.
There is a hope from the court. If the Supreme Court can show the determination it has in the case of electoral bonds and can instruct the ECI to conduct polls through ballot papers or at least provide the option of ballot paper to those asking for it, our problem will be solved.
---
*Well known academic-activist, General Secretary, Socialist Party (India)

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