So, how’s the EVM-tampering theory holding up now?

As the Gujarat elections results show, the jury is still out.

 |  5-minute read |   18-12-2017
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With the Gujarat election results now almost out and the BJP winning a sixth consecutive term in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, does the “EVM-tampering” theory still hold any water, or, given the lack of landslide for the saffron party, has it been junked altogether? With the BJP set to win about 105 seats and the Congress about 74 in the 182-seat Assembly, can it be said that the EVMs were indeed “hacked into”? Attempts for the same were made, as a number of leaders, particularly Hardik Patel has repeatedly asserted.

The fact of the matter is nobody still knows. In fact, those who were opposed to the very idea that EVMs could be manipulated remotely are still singing the same tune, particularly since there’s no thumping victory for the BJP to go with it. Many journalists and commentators have asked the defeated party to not come across as “sore losers” crying hoarse over EVMs, since that would put a shadow on the institutional credibility of the Election Commission of India.

However, there are significant voices within Gujarat as well as outside of it who have questioned the Election Commission’s decision to not match VVPATs against EVMs in at least 25 per cent of booths in every constituency, and limiting it to just one booth per constituency. Even the Supreme Court said that it couldn’t interfere in a decision that the EC has taken as that would mean doubting the integrity of the EC.

It seemed that the institutions are more “faith-based” and less “evidence-based”, drawing on intangibles like trust in the system at a time when doubts have been cast by many within and outside India on the efficacy of electronic voting machines in delivering democratic mandates.

There are genuine questions lingering on the availability of source code for EVMs, which are done at the point of manufacturing by companies, Indian and foreign, contracted by the government of India. It’s ironical that the BJP itself had raised this issue in 2008-09, when its spokesperson GVLN Rao had penned a book asserting that “democracy was at risk” because of EVMs.

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Doubts have been raised in the voting pattern emerging in Surat – home to the largest traders’ rally in Gujarat in the wake of demonetisation and GST – which is showing all 16 seats going to the BJP. Some of the close observers of the Gujarat Assembly polls, particularly @iScrew, have called this development “mind-boggling”. It would do well to remember that as many as 70 instances of EVM “malfunctions” were reported from various booths of Surat.

With many European countries rejecting digital voting machines and returning to paper ballots, the least the Election Commission of India could have done to allay the fears was to ensure the VVPATs were read alongside the EVM voting pattern. Saying a lukewarm win for the BJP is reason enough to believe that EVMs are foolproof would be living in denial.

Insisting on having “faith in the system” is tantamount to a certain institutional religiosity and not institutional accountability. Therefore, in order to really do away with the EVM bogey, the Election Commission has to behave in a much more transparent manner in the eight state Assembly elections of 2018 and the General Elections of 2019. 

Also read: In Gujarat election 2017, VVPAT for all booths: What voters should know

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