SC Judgment on EVMs and Paper Ballots | UPSC

Introduction

  • In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) advocating for a return to paper ballots to ensure the integrity of elections.

Supreme Court Judgment

  • Affirmation of EVM System and Cautionary Stance: The Supreme Court upheld the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and stressed the importance of exercising caution when raising doubts about the electoral process’s integrity. The decision marked a continuation of the court’s confidence in the EVM system.
  • Declined Petition for Full Cross-Verification with VVPAT: The court rejected the petitioners’ plea for 100% cross-verification of EVM votes with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips, maintaining the current practice of random verification, which stands at 5% of EVM-VVPAT counts in each Assembly constituency.
  • Robustness of VVPAT System: Highlighting the effectiveness of the VVPAT system, the court noted that over 4 crore VVPAT slips have been matched with electronic counts without any recorded discrepancies. This underscores the reliability of the VVPAT mechanism in ensuring the accuracy of electoral outcomes.
  • Neutrality of EVM Microcontrollers: The court emphasized that the microcontrollers embedded in EVMs are neutral entities, devoid of any partisan bias. They simply register the buttons pressed by voters, without any recognition of political affiliations or candidate preferences.
  • Unauthorised Access Detection Mechanism: In the event of any unauthorized attempt to tamper with EVM microcontrollers or memory, the court pointed out the presence of the Unauthorised Access Detection Mechanism (UADM), which permanently disables the affected components. This serves as a crucial safeguard against potential manipulation of EVMs.

By affirming the integrity of the EVM system, rejecting calls for a return to paper ballots, and highlighting the robustness of the VVPAT mechanism, the Supreme Court’s ruling underscores its commitment to upholding the credibility and fairness of India’s electoral processes.

Directions issued

  • While no changes have been recommended in the manner in which the ECI conducts polling, a couple of directions have been issued to adopt new procedures post-polls.
  • The two directions given by the Court address the other serious apprehensions: that the symbol loading units be secured and kept in safe custody for 45 days after declaration of results and that the top two losing candidates could seek a verification of the micro-controllers in 5% of the EVMs in specified polling booths so that tampering, if any, may be detected.

History of EVM adoption in India

  • The idea was conceived in 1977 and a prototype was developed by Electronics Corporation of India Ltd, Hyderabad, in 1979.
  • In 1982, machines were used in 50 polling stations during elections in the PArur seat of Kerala.
  • A section of the Representation of the People Act was amended in December 1988 and a new section, 61A, was included in the law, empowering the EC to use EVMs.
  • In 2001, state assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry and West Bengal were completely conducted using EVMs. All state assembly elections thereafter witnessed the use of this machine.
  • EVMs were used in all 543 constituencies of Lok Sabha elections.
  • In 2013, amendment to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 introduced the use of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines. Used in the by-election for the Noksen assembly seat in Nagaland
  • The 2019 Lok Sabha were the first in which EVM was fully backed by a VVPAT EVM.

What are the advantages of EVM and VVPAT?

a) Advantages of EVMs:

  • Prevention of booth capturing: EVMs restrict the rate of vote casting to 4 votes per minute, making it difficult for any individual or group to capture booths and manipulate the outcome.
  • Elimination of invalid votes: EVMs significantly reduce the number of invalid votes, which were a common issue with paper ballots, thereby reducing disputes during the counting process.
  • Reduction of paper usage: EVMs help in saving paper resources as compared to traditional paper ballots, contributing to environmental conservation efforts.
  • Logistical efficiency: EVMs alleviate logistical challenges associated with transporting and storing large quantities of paper ballots, especially in a country as vast as India.
  • Administrative convenience: EVMs expedite the counting process and minimize errors, leading to quicker election results and ensuring the smooth functioning of the democratic process.

b) Advantages of VVPAT:

  • Voter confidence: VVPAT provides voters with a tangible proof of their vote, as they can verify if their vote was recorded accurately on the paper slip before it is deposited into a secure compartment.
  • Transparency: The presence of a paper trail enhances the transparency and credibility of the electoral process, as it allows for verification and auditing of votes in case of disputes or recounts.
  • Electoral integrity: VVPAT enhances the integrity of elections by providing a backup mechanism for verifying electronic vote counts, thereby increasing trust in the electoral process among stakeholders.
  • Legal recourse: In case of any discrepancies or suspicions regarding the electronic vote counts, VVPAT provides a physical record that can be used as evidence in legal proceedings or investigations.

Overall, the combination of EVMs and VVPAT systems in the Indian electoral process offers a balance between technological efficiency and transparency, thereby strengthening the democratic principles of free and fair elections.

Challenges associated with EVMs and VVPATs:

  • In the Indian context, while Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) systems offer various advantages, they also face several challenges:

a) Challenges associated with EVMs:

  • Technical malfunctions: EVMs are electronic devices prone to technical glitches, such as button malfunction or display errors, which can lead to voting irregularities and disputes.
  • Security concerns: Despite measures to safeguard EVMs against tampering, concerns persist regarding the security of these devices, especially with the increasing sophistication of cyber threats.
  • Lack of voter education: Many voters, especially in rural and remote areas, may not be familiar with how to properly use EVMs, leading to confusion or errors during the voting process.
  • Trust deficit: Some sections of society question the integrity and reliability of EVMs, leading to skepticism and mistrust in the electoral process, which can undermine democratic principles.
  • Limited transparency: Unlike traditional paper ballots, EVMs do not provide a tangible paper trail for verification, which can reduce transparency and accountability in the electoral process.

b) Challenges associated with VVPAT:

  • Cost implications: Implementing VVPAT systems involves significant costs, including procurement, maintenance, and training, which may pose financial challenges for election authorities, especially in resource-constrained settings.
  • Operational complexities: Introducing VVPAT systems adds complexity to the electoral process, requiring additional training for election officials and potentially prolonging the voting and counting processes.
  • Maintenance issues: VVPAT systems require regular maintenance and calibration to ensure accuracy and reliability, which can be challenging in remote or inaccessible areas with limited infrastructure.
  • Storage and disposal of paper trails: Managing and securely storing the paper trails generated by VVPAT systems can be logistically challenging, especially in high-turnout elections with large volumes of paper slips.
  • Legal and regulatory frameworks: Clear guidelines and regulations are needed to govern the use of VVPAT systems, including procedures for auditing and resolving discrepancies, to ensure their effective implementation and compliance.

Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach involving technological innovation, voter education, transparency measures, and robust regulatory frameworks to enhance the integrity and credibility of the electoral process in India.

Conclusion and the way forward

  • Moving forward, several steps can be taken to address the challenges associated with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) systems in the Indian context:
  • Enhanced security measures: Implement rigorous security protocols and regular audits to safeguard EVMs against tampering and cyber threats. This includes strengthening physical security, encryption mechanisms, and access controls.
  • Transparency and accountability: Increase transparency in the electoral process by providing access to EVM source code and conducting independent technical evaluations. Establish clear procedures for auditing and resolving discrepancies, ensuring accountability at every stage of the electoral process.
  • Voter education and awareness: Launch comprehensive voter education campaigns to familiarize voters with EVMs and VVPAT systems, including how to use them properly and verify their votes. Promote awareness about the importance of electoral integrity and the role of technology in enhancing transparency.
  • Continuous innovation and improvement: Invest in research and development to innovate new technologies for secure and reliable electronic voting. Collaborate with experts in the field of cyber-security and technology to stay ahead of emerging threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Strengthening regulatory frameworks: Enact robust legal and regulatory frameworks to govern the use of EVMs and VVPAT systems, including provisions for transparency, accountability, and redressal of grievances. Ensure compliance with international standards and best practices in electoral technology.
  • Capacity building and training: Provide comprehensive training programs for election officials, technicians, and other stakeholders involved in the deployment and operation of EVMs and VVPAT systems. Build institutional capacity to manage and maintain electoral technology infrastructure effectively.
  • Public consultation and stakeholder engagement: Foster dialogue and engagement with political parties, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders to address concerns and build consensus on electoral reforms. Encourage participation in electoral processes and decision-making to enhance legitimacy and trust.

By adopting a multi-faceted approach that combines technological innovation, transparency, accountability, and stakeholder engagement, India can strengthen its electoral infrastructure and uphold the principles of free and fair elections in the digital age.

References:

Practice Questions for UPSC Prelims:

Q. With reference to the advantages of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) over paper ballots, consider the following statements:

1. EVMs eliminate the possibility of booth capturing.

2. EVMs eliminate invalid votes.

3. EVMs reduce paper usage and alleviate logistical challenges.

4. EVMs expedite the counting process and minimise errors.

How many of the above statements are correct?

a) Only one

b) Only two

c) Only three

d) All four

Answer: d

Explanation:

  • In the Indian context, keeping in view the vast size of the Indian electorate of nearly 97 crore, the number of candidates who contest the elections, the number of polling booths where voting is held, and the problems faced with ballot papers, EVMs offer significant advantages over paper ballots.
  • They have effectively eliminated booth capturing by restricting the rate of vote casting to 4 votes per minute, thereby prolonging the time needed, and thus check insertion of bogus votes.
  • EVMs have eliminated invalid votes, which were a major issue with paper ballots and had often sparked disputes during the counting process.
  • Furthermore, EVMs reduce paper usage and alleviate logistical challenges.
  • Finally, they provide administrative convenience by expediting the counting process and minimizing errors.

Hence, all the statements given above are correct.

Therefore, option (d) is the correct answer.

Relevance: In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) advocating for a return to paper ballots to ensure the integrity of elections.

Subject: Current Affairs | Polity

Level of Difficulty: Moderate | Factual

Practice Question for UPSC Mains

Topic: Important Aspects of Governance, Transparency and Accountability (GS Mains Paper 2)

Q. How does the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold electronic voting machines (EVMs) and dismiss the petition for paper ballots reflect on the balance between technological advancement and electoral integrity in India’s democratic process? (Answer in 250 words)

 

 

 

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