The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). Exclusive use of EVMs across the length and breadth of a huge country like India came off splendidly and the unparalleled success of this bold and progressive experiment demonstrated to the rest of the world, the country?s technological as well as grassroots democratic capabilities.
About half a million of the EVMs deployed in these elections were designed, manufactured and delivered by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), a Public Sector Enterprise of the Government of India. Today, the Electronic Voting Machines have made an easy passage to India?s hundreds of thousands of villages. There is widespread awareness of its reliability and adaptability, so also the political recognition. All these have been achieved through a series of meticulously planned events like exhaustive training to the polling officials, mass awareness programmes to educate voters, especially the overwhelming majority of those who live in the remote villages of India, etc.
Technical experts from Bharat Electronics Ltd. worked untiringly alongside the Indian Election Commission officials offering support and assistance for these activities and also during the elections, ensuring that the whole process succeeded and it is remarkable that there have been no problems with the machines worth speaking about. The 2004 general elections in India, where millions of voters cast their votes through the electronic voting machines and the results of which were declared in one single day, was indeed a landmark success for the application of technology for sustained development of society.
, Bangalore and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd., Hyderabad. The EVMs are now manufactured by the above two undertakings.
EVMs manufactured in 1989-90 were used on experimental basis for the first time in 16 Assembly Constituencies in the States of Madhya Pradesh (5), Rajasthan (5) and National Capital Territory of Delhi (6) at the General Elections to the respective Legislative Assemblies held in November, 1998.
Indian voting machines use a two-piece system with a balloting unit presenting the voter with a button (momentary switch) for each choice connected by a cable to an electronic ballot box.
The two units are joined by a five-meter cable. The Control Unit is with the Presiding Officer or a Polling Officer and the Balloting Unit is placed inside the voting compartment. Instead of issuing a ballot paper, the Polling Officer in-charge of the Control Unit will press the Ballot Button. This will enable the voter to cast his vote by pressing the blue button on the Balloting Unit against the candidate and symbol of his choice.
The microchip used in EVMs is manufactured in Japan and it is sealed at the time of import. It cannot be opened and any attempt to rewrite the program cannot be done without damaging the chip.
- EVMs can be used in areas with no power connections as they can run on an ordinary 6 volt alkaline battery manufactured by Bharat Electronics Ltd., Bangalore and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd., Hyderabad.
- Currently, an EVM can record a maximum of 3840 votes.
- Currently, an EVM can cater to a maximum of 64 candidates. There is provision for 16 candidates in a Balloting Unit. If the total number of candidates exceeds 16, a second Balloting Unit can be linked parallel to the first Balloting Unit. Similarly, if the total number of candidates exceeds 32, a third Balloting Unit can be attached and if the total number of candidates exceeds 48, a fourth Balloting Unit can be attached to cater to a maximum of 64 candidates.
- It is not possible to vote more than once by pressing the button again and again.As soon as a particular button on the Balloting Unit is pressed, the vote is recorded for that particular candidate and the machine gets locked. Even if one presses that button further or any other button, no further vote will be recorded. This way the EVMs ensure the principle of “one person, one vote”.
- The cost per EVM (One Control Unit, one Balloting Unit and one battery) was Rs.5,500/- at the time the machines were purchased in 1989-90. Even though the initial investment was somewhat heavy, it was more than neutralised by the savings in the matter of production and printing of ballot papers in lakhs, their transportation, storage etc., and the substantial reduction in the counting staff and the remuneration paid to them.
- It will be easier to transport the EVMs compared to ballot boxes as EVMs are lighter, portable and come with polypropylene carrying cases.
- The vote-counting is very fast and the result can be declared within 2 to 3 hours as compared to 30-40 hours, on an average, under the ballot-paper system.
- In countries like India, where illiteracy is still a factor, illiterate people find EVMs easier than ballot paper system, where one has to put the voting stamp on the symbol of the candidate of his/her choice, fold it first vertically and then horizontally, and put it into the ballot box. In EVMs, the voter has to simply press the blue button against the candidate and symbol of his choice and the vote is recorded.
- Bogus voting can be greatly reduced by the use of EVMs. In case of ballot paper system, a bogus voter can stuff thousands of bogus ballot papers inside the ballot box. But, an EVM is programmed to record only five votes in a minute. This will frustrate the bogus voters.
- If an EVM goes out-of-order then, the Election Officer, in-charge of the polling booth, can replace the defunct EVM with a spare EVM. The votes recorded until the stage when the EVM went out of order remain safe in the memory of the Control Unit and it is not necessary to start the poll from the beginning.
- The Control Unit can store the result in its memory for 10 years and even more. The battery is required only to activate the EVMs at the time of polling and counting. As soon as the polling is over, the battery can be switched off and this will be required to be switched on only at the time of counting. The battery can be removed as soon as the result is taken and can be kept separately. Therefore, there is no question of battery leaking or otherwise damaging EVMs. Even when the battery is removed the memory in the microchip remains intact. If the Court orders a recount, the Control Unit can be reactivated by fixing the battery and it will display the result stored in the memory.
- Invalid votes can be avoided by use of EVMs. When ballot system was used in India, the number of invalid votes was more than the winning margin between the candidates in every general elections. With EVMs, there are no invalid votes.
- Since EVMs work on a 6-volt battery, there is absolutely no risk of any voter getting an electric shock.
Usage of an EVM
If the number of candidates is less than the maximum capacity of the EVM, the extra panels are masked before use.
Before the commencement of poll, the Presiding Officer demonstrates to the polling agents present that there are no hidden votes already recorded in the machine by pressing the result button. Then he or she conducts a mock poll by asking the polling agents to record their votes and presses the result button to satisfy them that the result shown is strictly according to the choice recorded by them. Finally the clear button is pressed to clear the result of the mock poll before commencing the actual poll.
Each Control Unit has a unique ID Number, which is painted on each unit with a permanent marker. This ID Number will be allowed to be noted by the Polling Agents and will also be recorded in a Register maintained for the purpose by the Returning Officer. The address tag attached to the Control Unit also will indicate this ID Number. This is to avoid replacement of a genuine EVM by another one.
As soon as the voter presses the ‘blue button’ against the candidate and symbol of his choice, a tiny lamp on the left side of the symbol glows red and simultaneously a long beep sound is heard. Thus, there is both audio and visual indications for the voter to be assured that his vote has been recorded.
As soon as the last voter has voted, the Polling Officer in-charge of the Control Unit will press the ‘Close’ Button. Thereafter, the EVM will not accept any vote. Further, after the close of poll, the Balloting Unit is disconnected from the Control Unit and kept separately. Votes can be recorded only through the Balloting Unit. Again the Presiding officer, at the close of the poll, will hand over to each polling agent present an account of votes recorded. At the time of counting of votes, the total will be tallied with this account and if there is any discrepancy, this will be pointed out by the Counting Agents.
Limitations of electronic voting
A candidate can know people from which polling station voted for him and people from which did not. This problem was well-evident in Indian general elections, 2004; the day after the election results were declared, The Times of India, Mumbai carried statistics about which areas in Mumbai voted for which candidate. For e.g. people from Kandivali gave more votes to Govinda, while people from Borivali polled more votes for his opponent Ram Naik. The Election Commission of India argues that the mixing system of counting can avoid this. The result from each EVM can be fed into a Master Counting Machine and only the total result of an Assembly Constituency will be known and not the result in each individual polling station.