The Election Commission (EC) on Friday committed to hold all future polls to state assemblies and Lok Sabha with voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) and also agreed to mandatorily tally paper trail slips with the EVM results of a fixed percentage of polling booths in every election. The decisions were announced at the end of a day-long meeting of the poll panel with 42 political parties on matters related to electronic voting machines (EVMs).
“The Commission has taken into account that the VVPAT slips of electronic voting machines, up to a definite percentage which will be determined by the Commission, will also be subjected to counting and the ECI will evolve an appropriate framework in this regard,” Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi told reporters after the meeting.
As first reported by The Indian Express on April 20, the EC has decided to link all EVMs to VVPAT machines for the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections, due by the end of the year. VVPAT machines produce a printout of the vote cast using an EVM.
The printout is deposited in a box and can be used to resolve any dispute regarding the election.
“Political parties were also informed that the Commission will hold a challenge and offer opportunity to political parties to demonstrate that EVMs used in the recently concluded assembly elections were tampered or that EVMs can be tampered even under the laid down technical and administrative measures,” Zaidi said.
The poll panel did not, however, announce the date of the proposed ‘Open Challenge’. According to sources, it will be held this month and political parties along with their technical experts will be invited to prove their allegations of tampering on EVMs used in the elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa.
At Friday’s meeting, most political parties, except the BJP and SAD (Badal), expressed apprehension over the infallibility of the EVMs. While a majority of the seven national and 35 state parties supported the use of VVPATs along with the voting machines, a few such as the Trinamool Congress, RJD, BSP, CPI, PMK and J&K National Panthers Party, wanted the EC to go back to paper ballots.
Incidentally, the JD(U) took a stand opposite to that of its Bihar ally RJD. JD(U) representative Sanjay Jha cited the example of rampant booth capturing in Bihar in the past to oppose the proposal to use paper ballots again.
Some parties, including RLD and Congress, which supported the use of VVPATs, urged the Commission to extend the display period of the VVPAT slip before it falls into the ballot box. Currently, the paper trail slip is displayed for seven seconds in the VVPAT window before it drops into the box. Parties want the display to last for 15 seconds.
Many parties, including RLD, CPI, JD(S) and National Conference, also objected to the recent amendments to the Companies Act of 2013 which removed the cap of 7.5 per cent on corporate contribution to political parties. “You (the government) have allowed unlimited corporate funding (to parties) but brought down the cash limit on donations from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000. This move will only benefit political parties such as the Congress and BJP,” CPI leader Atul Kumar Anjan said.
Parties which opposed unlimited corporate funding supported state funding of elections in the same breath. The CPI, TMC, JD(S) and JD(U) were among the supporters. The Commission assured all parties that their feedback will be considered.
Zaidi said, “You should be convinced that EC has no favourites… we maintain equidistance from all parties and groups. It is our constitutional and moral duty to stand dead centre of the circle drawn around us by 56 political parties.” His remarks came against the backdrop of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal questioning the independence of Election Commissioners A K Joti and O P Rawat.
At the meeting, AAP leader and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia welcomed the EC’s announcement of using VVPATs in all future elections and urged the Commission to mandatorily count paper trail slips in 25 per cent of the polling booths in every constituency on the day of the results to instil more faith in the voting process. Sisodia maintained that his party will demonstrate hacking on EC’s EVM on the day of the proposed ‘Open Challenge’ just like it did on a prototype in the Delhi Assembly on Tuesday.
The all-party meeting was called in the wake of Opposition parties questioning the infallibility of EVMs after their rout in the UP and Uttarakhand assembly elections. Last month, a delegation of Opposition parties led by the Congress had met the three election commissioners to urge them to revert to the ballot system of voting.