Warning on remote electronic voting by Election Commission
A former chief election commissioner and an ex-returning officer who had flagged the “vulnerability” of electronic voting machines to tampering have opposed a purported proposal for remote electronic voting by the Election Commission.
The Economic Times on Saturday reported that the EC is working on an “Internet-free” prototype to upgrade EVMs to allow people to vote from areas outside their constituencies.
The report said: “For remote voters, the paper ballot on the EVM’s balloting unit will be replaced with an electronic ballot inserted in the unit. A constituency card reader, similar to a barcode reader, will be installed at the presiding officer’s control unit.
“When a ‘remote voter’ approaches the presiding officer, the constituency card reader will decipher the voter’s constituency data and relay it to the balloting unit, which will display the ‘electronic ballot’ of the seat to which the voter is registered. The vote registered will be saved in the control unit, constituency wise, and tallied to each respective constituency during counting.”
The EC did not confirm or deny the report. CEC Sushil Chandra is yet to respond to queries from The Telegraph sent via email and WhatsApp.
Former CEC O.P. Rawat told this newspaper: “This will not be acceptable to political parties as it introduces new areas of suspicion…. How will any machine that has the data of so many constituencies stored in it give the data for counting constituency-wise? It is terrible. This can’t happen.”
Several Opposition parties, including all national parties except the BJP, had asked the EC to revert to paper ballots before the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, citing “opaqueness” in the electoral system.
Last year, NGOs had demanded postal ballots for domestic migrants while Opposition parties had flagged concerns over potential fraud. Besides service voters, this facility is available now to people above 80, Covid patients and the disabled.
The election agents of the candidate are allowed to be present in polling stations to verify if the people casting their votes tally with the voters’ list. During the special summary revision of the voters’ list in Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha district this week, 18,898 voters were found to have the same photograph.
Rawat explained: “I don’t think it (remote voting) is feasible without using the Internet and once you use the Internet, the security of your EVM is gone. That is the only strength the Indian EVM has — that it is standalone, it cannot talk to other machines, and it is not Internet-ready.”
In 2019, IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan, former returning officer of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, had claimed that paper trail machines were vulnerable to becoming Trojan horses for tampering voting machines. Back then, the EC had said a “rigorous scrutiny” was being done, although no evidence of “transfer of vote from one candidate to another has been found” in the Lok Sabha polls that year.
Gopinathan told this newspaper on Saturday: “My view is that the EC should get a paper published on this proposed tech in a peer-reviewed journal so that the authority of the arguments are clearly established and countered in a transparent way.”
The Telangana State Election Commission, which conducts local body polls in the state and does not come under the EC’s supervision, has announced the pilot launch of a mobile voting application to be tried out in a dummy election in Khammam on October 20.
Not only does this throw to the wind the EC’s precaution of keeping voting devices off the Internet, the voters will also be unsupervised. Nor has the state poll panel revealed how it plans to prevent coercion of voters.
Rawat said Gujarat’s experience in using Internet voting in municipal polls in 2010 and 2015 had shown that despite huge expenditure, less than 1 per cent of votes were cast through this mode.