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Lines of defence
April 19, 2017 (Ref: thehindu.com)

The inclusion of paper audit trails to the EVMs is costly but perhaps unavoidable

In the face of extreme and unreasonable complaints against Electronic Voting Machines by a number of political parties, the Election Commission perhaps had no choice but to have the working of the machines corroborated by a paper audit trail. To have such a facility ready for all constituencies by the 2019 Lok Sabha election is expensive (an estimated Rs. 3,174 crore) and also unnecessary (paper trails are at best required in a few constitutencies to corroborate results). Its request to the Law Ministry to release funds for the procurement of voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines for the 2019 Lok Sabha election should be interpreted in this context. As many as 16 lakh VVPAT machines will be required and only an urgent release of funds will allow the machines to be ready in time for 2019. It was possible for the EC to brush off the complaints from the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Aam Aadmi Party following their defeat in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab respectively, but it clearly became increasingly difficult for it to ignore the clutch of parties that joined the chorus, some demanding a return to paper ballots.

The EC has repeatedly assured voters that there are enough procedural and technical safeguards to prevent large-scale tampering or manipulation of EVMs. Since 2006, elections have witnessed the use of upgraded EVMs — Model 2 machines, with security features such as dynamic coding of key codes on ballot units and their transfer as messages to the control unit in an encrypted manner. EVMs feature encoded software that is burnt one-time on to programmable chips, enabling them to be used as stand-alone machines rather than computer-connected units, thus preventing any hacking by remote devices. Model 3 machines produced after 2013 have additional features such as tamper detection. The EC has laid down procedural rules of locking and storing EVMs before and after polling, besides functional checks and tests in the presence of representatives of political parties. The addition of the VVPAT machine to the process is to allow for cross-checking of EVM results through a paper audit, completing another layer of accountability to the indigenously produced machines (only the microchip is manufactured outside the country with the machine language embedded on it). Contrary to glib claims about tampering, studies show the introduction of EVMs has resulted in a drastic reduction in electoral fraud (rigging, stuffing of ballot boxes, etc.) and allowed for greater voter participation. Since reverting to the older paper ballot system will be regressive, the only option in the face of the protests is to have a back-up in the form of a paper trail — something that will hopefully put a quietus to the controversy.

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