Assembly election results: Why VVPATs are not a solution to our mistrust of EVMs

The problem, after all, is not as much with technology as our ability to trust it.

 |  4-minute read |   13-12-2018
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Let’s face it. Digital India barely trusts technology.

Every time we Paytm money to someone, we make it a point to check with the person if s/he has received the money. We do that even when our app confirms that the money has been transferred to the name and number we intended to transfer the money to.

online-690_121318010815.jpgWe as Indians are highly sceptical of online transactions. (Source: Reuters)

Some of us have added payees to our bank accounts for monthly transactions. Sometimes, we transact with these people more than once a month — but we don’t trust the fact that the ‘transfer’ button would ensure money is transferred to the same account every month after we press ‘confirm’. So, we call up the person to check if the money has been received. When we don’t call, we do drop a message or a simple WhatsApp (some of us also wait for the tick to turn blue to be assured that the message has been delivered).

This is how we — quite innocent Indians — live with technology.     

In the same league, the obsessive demand to have voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) is nothing but a reflection of our lack of trust in the fact that our vote cast through the electronic voting machine (EVM) has been delivered to our ‘intended beneficiary’.

vvpat-690_121318010414.jpgThe Election Commission has organised hackathons to prove EVMs can't be tampered with. (Source: PTI)

What VVPAT is

VVPAT is a feature of the EVM. It was introduced to verify that the vote polled by a voter goes to the correct candidate.

This second line of verification was introduced after allegations were levelled by various political parties that EVMs can be tampered to vote in favour of one party.

Even though the Election Commission (EC) has organised hackathons, challenging people to prove how EVMs can be hacked, questions have still remained.

In 2017, the two political parties — CPM and NCP — who had volunteered to hack the EVM machines at the EC hackathon, did not attempt to do so.

According to news reports, “The CPM team that was made up of IT experts returned satisfied.”    

The NCP was, however, unhappy that they would be given access to only one of 14 randomly selected machines and on their way out, called the exercise an "eyewash".

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has been most aggressive in alleging EVM tampering, going ahead to even use a Delhi Assembly session to show how hacking the machines was possible, chose not to participate in the EC's challenge, calling it a fake exercise.

In most elections now, it has become a trend for the losing side to pin the blame on EVMs.

While the debate over whether EVMs can be hacked or not is still on, the use of VVPAT is definitely no way to settle the debate.

How VVPATs work

A VVPAT machine consists of the following:

a) Printer: It gives the record of a voter’s selection

b) Display unit: Shows if there is any error

When a voter presses the button on the VVPAT against the chosen candidate, a printed VVPAT slip is displayed for seven seconds.

The slip is then automatically cut and delivered to a sealed ballot compartment.

vvp-690_121318010700.jpgVVPATs are proof that suspicious minds will remain suspicious even in the face of all evidence. (Source: Reuters)

Now, a voter can easily miss the details that reflect only for seven seconds and despite all the trees on earth being cut to assure him/her, the person may return from the polling booth without any surety about who the vote went to — much like our online banking transactions.

The point is — if EVMs can’t be trusted, even VVPATs can’t be.

In the run-up to the recently concluded Assembly elections in five states, Congress leader Kamal Nath filed a petition before the Supreme Court, seeking a random verification of VVPAT machines.  

The SC, thankfully, refused to entertain the petition.

In 2013, it was the SC that directed usage of VVPAT machines for all forthcoming elections in a phased manner after allegations of EVM tampering. Now, we don’t trust VVPATs.

EVMs were supposed to make the election process faster and infallible, VVPATs are proof suspicious minds will remain suspicious, even in the face of all evidence.

Why make the poor trees pay for that?

The problem, after all, is not as much with technology as our ability to trust it.

Also read: Assembly election results: Pakistan declared results for national election in one day. What is taking India so long?


Vandana Vandana @vsinghhere

Author is the former Assistant Editor, DailyO.

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