| Voters wait in front of a polling booth in Sohra on Tuesday. Telegraph picture |
Shillong, July 26: It was an election with no real election. But if authenticity and fairness should remain uncompromised in the “first-past-the-post system” in electoral democracy, then Sohra (Cherrapunjee) and Shella were the places one should have visited today.
The two Assembly constituencies, situated in Meghalaya’s East Khasi Hills district, were chosen to be the testing grounds for the newly-developed Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) to improve authenticity during India’s expensive and extensive electoral battles.
The VVPAT is an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their votes were cast correctly. The technology also provides room to detect possible election fraud or malfunction, and to audit the stored electronic results.
The VVPAT, used by South American countries, has been developed by Bharat Electrical Ltd (BEL) and Electronic Corporation of India (ECIL).
After pressing a button against a particular candidate, a voter can either see the ballot paper for at least five seconds where the symbol and name of candidate is printed before disappearing into a sealed box. Or he can take the printed paper out before depositing itin a box.
A “mock battle of ballots” was conducted in the two constituencies where voters had to choose from among 32 candidates, 16 in each, across 32 polling stations (16 in each).
In some polling stations like Mawkdok and Lad Mawphlang, under Sohra constituency, local residents turned out in huge numbers, much to the surprise of poll officials.
While the administration had declared all schools closed for the day to facilitate voting, young and old eligible voters were seen queuing up in the polling booths to witness the VVPAT. In the two constituencies, the average turnout was 75.16 per cent.
“I feel this system is better than the earlier ones as now I could see whom I really voted for,” S. Nongrum, an elderly woman at the Lad Mawphlang polling booth said after casting her “ballot”.
But not only were local residents allowed to cast their votes. People came from as far as Mizoram to witness the functioning of the VVPAT system to dispel their cynicism over the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
A delegation of the Mizo National Front (MNF) led by its adviser, retired wing commander J. Lalhmingliana, arrived at Sohra, to cast their ballot.
“Remember that we came here with a scar,” MNF secretary Gogo Lalremtluanga told reporters before setting off for Mawsmai, the nearest polling station from the office of the sub-divisional officer, Sohra.
Lalremtluanga was referring to the 2008 elections where the MNF faced a huge drubbing at the hands of the Congress led by incumbent Mizoram chief minister Lalthanhawla. The MNF with its poll ally, the Mara Democratic Front (MDF) could manage to win only four seats while the Congress won from 32 constituencies in a 40-member House.
“Earlier, the winning margin of candidates was never in thousands. But in the 2008 polls, it happened when the Congress won with huge margins in most of the 32 constituencies. We feel that we lost the polls due to the inaccuracy of the EVMs,” Lalremtluanga said.
Asked to comment after witnessing the VVPAT technology, Lalhmingliana said: “It appears that it is an improvement on the earlier EVMs. And mark my words: If this technology is highly authentic unlike the EVMs, the MNF will return to power in the 2013 polls.”
He said through the system, a voter can have proof and confirmation that he/she had voted for the candidate of his/her choice.
Like the MNF, the AGP and the BJP had also cast doubts on the EVMs soon after the electoral results were declared in neighbouring Assam in May.
Apart from Sohra, the other four locations of extreme environmental conditions selected for the mock polls included Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, national capital territory of Delhi in East Delhi and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.
The Sohra weather today was contrary to what was expected. The sky was clear although at frequent intervals a thick mist evolved out of the deep gorges.
The counting of votes to both the constituencies will be held tomorrow from 9am onwards, the returning officer and SDO Sohra, J.D. Suchiang, said.
Altogether, around 700 officials were involved in the mock poll and Suchiang expressed satisfaction at the voters’ response.
After casting their vote, the electorate had to provide feedback in all the polling booths. This will be sent to the Election Commission which will examine the data before deciding whether electoral politics in the country should again go for a change through the VVPAT.