The government has rejected a proposal by the Election Commission, which the panel said would enhance secrecy of voting. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a letter dated November 18, 2016, informed Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi that the Committee of Ministers headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh did not accept the demand to introduce totaliser machines for counting of votes.
These machines increase the secrecy of voting by counting votes polled at 14 polling booths together, as against the current practice of announcing booth-wise results. According to the Election Commission, the identification of area-wise voting trends could encourage candidates and political parties to target areas where they got less votes.
Before the introduction of electronic voting machines, counting of votes was done after mixing all ballot papers, which prevented the disclosure of voting patterns in every booth. Prasad’s letter does not state the reasons why the proposal was shot down. The Law Minister could not be reached for a comment.
The EC first approached the Law Ministry in 2008 with the proposal to amend the Conduct of Election rules to introduce totaliser machine on counting day. Last August, a team of Union Ministers — Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar, Nitin Gadkari and Ravi Shankar Prasad — was constituted on the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliberate on the idea.
According to EC sources, the proposal was supported by only three (BSP, Congress, NCP) of the six national parties after the Commission demonstrated the use of the machine last March.
The BJP had opposed it on the ground that details of booth-wise performance of candidates was important for booth management. The CPI(M) agreed in principle but added a rider saying that the machine should be used carefully and introduced in phases.
As first reported by The Indian Express on November 21, 2016, the Law Ministry hasn’t accepted the EC’s demand for permanent legal powers to cancel elections in case there is credible evidence of voters being bribed. This was reiterated in Prasad’s letter to Zaidi on November 18.