THE ELECTION Commission Sunday reacted strongly to questions raised by AAP on the reliability of electronic voting machines in the context of the Punjab assembly elections, asking the party to “introspect” instead on why it could not perform according to its expectations.
The commission also said that AAP was free to file an election petition in the High Court to verify the votes cast in the recently concluded polls with data from the paper trail.
Reiterating that the “integrity of electoral process is fully preserved”, the EC stated: “The commission has put in place an elaborate technical and administrative system of safeguards to ensure error-free functioning of EVMs in elections. It is for your party to introspect as to why your party could not perform as per your expectations and it is unfair on the part of your party to attribute unsatisfactory poll performance of your party to the alleged tamperability of EVMs.”
It said that the “commission is fully satisfied with the tamper proof functioning of the ECI-EVMs”.
The EC’s letter came a day after it decided to send a team of high-level officers to supervise bypolls on April 9 in two assembly segments of Ater and Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh following reports that a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machine used during a trial only dispensed slips with the BJP’s poll symbol.
Reacting to the EC’s letter, the AAP said it was “unfortunate that instead of taking due action, the Election Commission is issuing political statements on the issue”.
The AAP has approached EC last week over alleged EVM tampering in Punjab and demanded that slips generated by VVPAT machines be matched with the result. The party had performed much below expectations in the state, winning only 20 of the 117 seats.
Explaining measures taken to secure the EVMs, the EC said in its letter: “Hence, you are informed that after declaration of result, only alternative available to verify the data of votes cast is to file an Election Petition before the competent court ie, High Court concerned.”
The commission cited Rule 93 of the Code of Elections Rules, 1961, to describe the procedures for production and inspection of election papers. It stated that while in the custody of the district election officer or the returning officer, all vital documents related to elections cannot be opened by any person or authority, except under the order of a competent court.
The commission said that every EVM used in polls is subject to a mock test on three occasions in the presence of agents of political parties and contesting candidates. “Wherever WPATs are used, the electronic result of the control unit is tallied with the paper count of VVPAT in the mock poll before starting actual poll,” it said.
The panel stated: “Moreover, no credible material has been brought to the knowledge of authorities during and at the time of above processes in Punjab elections to show alleged tampering in EVMs… This activity was scrupulously followed in the State of Punjab during recently concluded assembly elections and nowhere any discrepancy was observed in result of mock poll.”
Taking strong exception to AAP’s observation that the Supreme Court had cast aspersions over the EVMs, the commission wrote: “(The) Supreme Court had never cast any aspersion or expressed any doubt that election process is interdicted/rigged by use of EVMs. The commission strongly objects to this wrong and imaginary extrapolation of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order. This may please be noted as a responsible political party.”
The EC pointed out that various high courts had “unequivocally reiterated that given the effective technical and administrative safeguards, EVMs are not tamperable and integrity of electoral process is fully preserved”.
Responding to the AAP contention that some foreign countries had stopped using EVMs, the poll panel maintained that the comparison between ECI-EVM and other machines was “misplaced and misguided.”
It said the EVMs used by ECI are “stand-alone machines” and that most systems used in other countries were computer-based and controlled using the Internet, making it vulnerable to hacking.
“The software in the ECI-EVM chip is one-time programmable (orp) and burnt into the chip at the time of manufacture. Nothing can be written on the chip after manufacture. Thus, the ECI-EVMs are fundamentally different from the voting machines and processes adopted in various foreign countries,” it said.
In its response, AAP said: “Turning a blind eye to the shocking reports trickling in from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and now Madhya Pradesh would serve no purpose and would only erode the credibility of the EC.”
The BJP, meanwhile, reiterated its full faith in the ECI.
Rejecting the charges of Congress and AAP over alleged tampering, BJP’s national general secretary Bhupendra Yadav said, “We lost in a state like Punjab, which was ruled by the BJP-Akali Dal alliance, while the Samajwadi Party lost in Uttar Pradesh. In both cases, EVMs were with the district magistrates. We have full faith in the Election Commission.”
Soon after the UP assembly poll verdict was out, BSP supremo Mayawati had raised questions over the EVMs after her party’s poor show.