Gradual eroding of public confidence in EVMs and VVPATS

  • Pawan Khera, Chairman, Media and Publicity

EC Finding Defects in 6.5 Lakh VVPATs is a Deliberate Defect in our Democracy

The faith, trust and confidence of every Indian in the process of our election are integral to our democracy. It is key not only to our image as the world’s largest democracy, but also in giving every citizen a voice, a power to influence the policies of the government.

‘When a voter casts a vote on a direct-recording voting machine, the voter has no knowledge through his senses that he has accomplished a result. The most that can be said, is, if the machine worked as intended, then he/she ... has voted.’

Voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) or verified paper record (VPR) is a method of providing feedback to voters using a ballotless voting system. A VVPAT is intended as an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly, to detect possible election fraud or malfunction, and to provide a means to audit the stored electronic results.

The Election Commission (EC) has identified 6.5 lakh VVPAT machines as defective and has sent them to the manufacturers for repair. These VVPAT machines are of the latest “M3” type, first introduced by the EC in 2018, and used in elections since. Most notably, 17 lakh 40 thousand VVPAT machines were notified for use in the Lok Sabha elections of 2019.

VVPATs themselves were introduced as a measure to boost public confidence in EVMs. In an atmosphere of increasing questions on the EVMs, defects at such a large scale require full transparency to restore public faith and trust in the electoral process.

The Indian National Congress, and citizens of India, are considering this the most serious issue affecting the very integrity of our electoral process. The number of machines in which defects have been found is more than one-third (37%) the number used in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Voters in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, and subsequent Assembly elections, may have had their vote affected. This cannot be treated as isolated incidents since thousands of VVPATs with consecutive serial numbers in entire batches, from different manufacturers, have been found defective. The defects are serious enough that the machines have been returned to the manufacturers like ECIL - Hyderabad, BEL Bangalore, BEL Panchkula with the number of machines found defective being 4 Lakhs, 1 lakh 85 thousand and 68 thousand 5 hundred respectively.

The way in which these machines have been identified as defective appears to be in contravention to the EC’s own Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). Normally, the field officers are responsible for identifying defects. For example, when a new VVPAT is received, the District Election Officer carries out a “first level check”. If any fault is identified, within 7 days, the machine is returned to the manufacturer for repairs, in coordination with the Chief Election Officer concerned. In this case, the Election Commission itself decided in 2021 that these machines must be repaired, and sent instructions to all states and UTs, except Andaman& Nicobar Islands, Laskhadweep, and Daman and Diu.

What is all Political parties wondering about is that they have not been informed in detail about the reason for these machines being recalled. This activity is being carried out as a general procedure by election officials. The scale of the issue was realized only after the media reports highlighted it, rather than being informed by the EC.

Considering these serious issues, the Indian National Congress has posed 8 important questions to the Election Commission in the public interest:

  1. Has the EC been able to identify the exact defects being observed in the VVPAT machines?
  2. If yes, then has the EC rectified all the defects which have been identified?
  3. Why has the rectification and identification of defects in VVPATs machines been delayed since the order to collection was issued in the year 2021?
  4. Has the EC been able to identify all the machines where the defects have been reported, i.e., have all the VVPAT machines been tested for defects?
  5. Why were the defects not detected at the ‘First Level Checks’, which are in place for VVPAT machines?
  6. Has the Commission sought any report from the DEO and CEO who were in-charge of these particular machines which have been declared defective?
  7. What additional safeguards is the EC planning to put in force in order to prevent similar incidents in the future which have far reaching consequences on the elections?
  8. In view of the present issues raised in respect of the functioning of VVPAT machines, will the EC continue the usage of these machines in any upcoming elections?

Today, the Modi government is suppressing debate in Parliament, misusing law and order agencies against the opposition, activists and journalists, putting pressure on the judiciary, and intimidating the media. At such a critical time, the power of the vote is even more precious, and no doubts should be allowed to linger around it.

This is the latest in a series of incidents which have slowly eroded public confidence in EVMs and VVPATS. We hope the Election Commission responds fully and speedily to our questions, and restores public confidence by proactively dispelling the questions which have been raised around VVPATs.

Based on Press Briefing on April 21, 2023