Electronic voting machines or EVMs are used to cast a vote without revealing the identity of the voters. They have replaced the traditional paper ballot form of voting for a while and are used in many parts of the world. An EVM is a programmable electronic voting system which is personalised by the addition of a ballot sheet and a memory cartridge. The memory cartridge carries the final totals back to a computer at the Election Commission’s headquarters for totalisation and outputting of the election results. Circuitry is included within the system for ensuring election security, for providing absentee balloting and for permitting write-in voting (Boram, 1984).
The EVMs used in India consists of a ballot unit which is used by the voters and a control unit operated by the poll workers joined by a 5m cable. To cast their vote, the voters need to press the button corresponding to the candidate of their choice.
The course of EVMs in India
The voting system in India has undergone multiple changes since its inception. During the first two General Elections to the Lok Sabha (1952 and 1957), candidates were allotted separate ballot-boxes which had candidates’ symbol pasted on them. The voters had to just drop a pre-printed ballot paper into the ballot boxes of their choice. This system was soon replaced, because the use of ballot papers was time-consuming and prone to misconducts like booth-capturing, ballot box stuffing, casting of invalid votes and more. Also, this type of voting was subjected to extended counting drills, disputes, and delays in the announcement of results (Election Commission of India, 2018).
In 1960-61, a marking system on the ballot paper was introduced during the mid-term elections to the legislative assemblies in Kerala and Odisha which continued till the 1999 Lok Sabha elections (ibid). In 1977, S L Shakdher, the then Chief Election Commissioner of India requested the Electronics Corporation of India (ECIL) to study the feasibility of using an electronic device to conduct elections in the country. Subsequently, ECIL was assigned the task to develop such a device. In 1979 a prototype of the gadget was ready and its operation was demonstrated before the political parties in 1980.
When, in 1981, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) shouldered the responsibility of manufacturing EVMs the EC confidently issued directives under Article 324 of Indian Constitution for its countrywide deployment. A pilot was run during the elections in 50 polling stations in Parur Assembly Constituency of Kerala. Between 1982 and 1983, the EVMs were being used in elections across the country.
On March 5, 1984, the Supreme Court held that EVM could not be used in the elections, as no law prescribes its usage. Following this, in 1988, the Parliament added the amendment 61A in the Representation of People Act 1951, thereby empowering the EC to use EVMs. The amendment came into force on March 15, 1989.
To address various doubts and speculations regarding the use of EVMs a Technical Expert Committee (TEC) was constituted in 1990, under the leadership of S Sampath, Chairman, Recruitment and Assessment Centre, Defense Research and Development Organisation (RAC DRDO) with eminent members such as P V Indiresen from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Rao C Kasarbada (ER and DCI, Trivandrum) amongst others.
In April 1990, the TEC recommended the use of EVMs for conducting elections in India. In 1998, EVMs were used in 16 legislative assembly constituencies in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The use of EVMs was further extended to 46 parliamentary constituencies in 1999 and to 45 assembly constituencies in 2000. In 2001 EVMs were used in the state assembly elections in Puducherry, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. By 2004, the EVMs completely replaced the manual voting system in India.
Several technological changes and new features have been incorporated in EVMs since 2001. The ‘M1 EVMs’ were manufactured in the period 1989-to 2006 and were last used in the 2014 general elections. These EVMs are not compatible with the new Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) systems. The ‘M2 EVMs’ manufactured between 2006 and 2012 are currently in use with features such as encryption and time-stamping of key press. The ‘M3 EVMs’ manufactured in the year 2013 is likely to replace the older models by the end of 2018.
The latest addition to the Indian EVM, the VVPAT was introduced in 2013 after extensive field trials in 2011 and 2012. The VVPAT was introduced as an additional equipment of with the EVM. VVPAT model was developed by the EVM manufacturers BEL and ECIL under the guidance of the TEC. In 2013 VVPATs were used in by-election for Noksen Assembly Constituency in Nagaland (Election Commission of India, 2018).
Issues and controversies against the use of EVMs
EVM was alleged to be a tamperable and an unreliable voting gadget by various political parties after the pronouncement of the Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections results in March 2017. In April 2017, representatives of 13 political parties expressed their concerns to the EC about the fairness of elections through EVMs. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati alleged that the EVMs were manipulated and no matter which buttons were pushed, the votes went on to Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Aadmi party also released a communication that bolstered suspicion on EVM tampering in Punjab. Kejriwal demanded that the EC match the VVPAT generated slips with the election results. The EC was prompted to seek a report on EVMs after another incident surfaced where the VVPAT machines were said to only dispense slips with the BJP’s poll symbol in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh (India Today, 2017).
A special inquiry team led by Bhanwar Lal, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Andhra Pradesh submitted a report to the EC which clearly elucidated the efficient working of VVPATs and EVMs in Bhind. The team did not find any anomaly or tampering in the machines used during a demonstration in Ater (Bhind) in March 2017. The report received after the technical examination of the Ballot Unit, Control Unit and VVPAT conclusively established that the machines performed accurately without any errors (Election Commission of India, 2017).
Present Status of EVM in India
The Supreme Court, in its judgement in the case of Subramanian Swamy vs. Election Commissioner of India observed that EVMs with VVPATs ensure the transparency and accuracy of the voting system. The Supreme Court appreciated the efforts made by the EC to introduce VVPATs and granted permission to launch it in the upcoming general elections. The court has also directed the Indian government to provide financial assistance for its procurement. The Chief Election Commissioner of India has allocated INR 2,616.3 crore to the VVPAT manufacturers for the timely delivery of the systems at all polling stations. Also, INR 1,940 crore has been sanctioned and released by the government for the manufacturing of VVPAT compatible M3 EVMs. In All Political Parties Meeting held in May 2017, the Commission has decided to use 100 per cent VVPATs in all the future elections. This decision was communicated to the Chief Electoral Officers of all States and Union Territories in September, 2017 (Election Commission of India, 2018).
To avoid the future complications and controversies, the EC, in addition to the provisions of Rule 56D of the Conduct Elections Rules, 1961, has made it mandatory to verify the VVPAT paper slips of randomly selected polling stations. As per this rule, in the case of general and by-elections to the state legislative assemblies, there will be verification of VVPAT paper slips of one randomly selected polling station per assembly constituency. In case of general and by-elections to the Lok Sabha, there will be a verification of the VVPAT paper slips of one randomly selected polling station of each assembly segment of the parliamentary constituency concerned. So far, the verification of VVPAT paper slips has been carried out in 792 polling stations and no incongruity was found in the electronic result and paper count (Election Commission of India, 2018).
International Scenario of EVM
The first ‘ lever voting machine’ was used in 1892, in Lockport, New York (Harris, 1934). In the 1960s, punch card machines were introduced in the USA and the first EVM was introduced in 1975 (ibid). Since then, many election management bodies and activists have raised questions about the idea, with several countries discontinuing their use.
Electronic voting machines were used in the Netherlands between 1990 and 2007. The voting machines used were manufactured by a private Dutch company called Nederlandse Apparaten Fabriek NV (NEDAP). In 2006, the government ordered for the independent testing of the EVMs and two commissions were established to review the security and reliability features of the NEDAP machine. In the year 2007, the use of NEDAP machines was discontinued on various grounds. The commissions reported that the Ministry of Interior Kingdom Relations (MOIKR) lacked the adequate technical knowledge regarding the use of the machines. They also pointed out that Dutch Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek, TNO), when certifying and testing the machines followed ‘outdated standards’ which were not immune to modern IT and security threats (Election Commission of India, 2018).
As of 2011, six provinces in Canada viz Alberta, BC, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec have passed a legislation which allows for various forms of electronic voting, including voting through internet. Some municipalities in Alberta still use touchscreen voting machines for advanced voting. Optical scans are used in New Brunswick. EVMs were shelved in Quebec because the directeur général des élections du Québec believed that EVMs lacked the required technical standards and security measures (Elections Canada, 2012).
The e-voting machines manufactured by NEDAP were used in Germany during 2005-2009. The Bundesverfassungsgericht (the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany) ordered the discontinuation of the use of NEDAP machines in 2009 because the machines violated the principle of the public nature of elections (Article 38 in conjunction with Article 20.1 and 20.2 of the Basic Law) (BVerfG, 2009). At present, the voting system is Germany is through secret ballot in which the voters cast their votes by writing the name of the candidate on a paper and putting it inside a ballot box. All the counting of the votes is done manually (DW, 2017).
NEDAP machines used in Ireland were discontinued in 2004 on the grounds of inadequate technological safeguards, insecure transfer of data, the absence of comprehensive end-to-end testing, lack of electronic registers to record the identity, location and movement of electronic voting devices (EDRi, 2004). The people of Ireland currently use the traditional ballot papers to cast vote for their choice of candidate (Citizens Information, 2018).
United States of America
After the presidential election held in 2000, a significant dispute occurred regarding the voting method in the USA. It led to the conclusion that the manner in which people cast their vote is critical and therefore, some changes are required in the voting technology (Bederson et al., 2003). Accordingly the direct recording electronic (DRE) Systems were introduced. These systems use ’one of three basic interfaces (pushbutton, touch screen or dial)’ through which ‘voters record their votes directly into computer memory. Choices of the voters are stored in DREs via a memory cartridge, diskette or smart card. Some DREs can be equipped with VVPAT printers as well’. Currently, in the USA, the DRE System Machines are used in 27 states, among which paper audit trails are used in 15 states. The other voting methods include optical scan paper ballot systems, ballot marking devices, and the punch card ballot (Election Commission of India, 2018).
Despite the misgiving in India, EVM has helped in building the trust of the voters. It has helped bolster an accurate and transparent electoral process whose outcomes can be independently verified. Also, the use of EVMs has improved the confidence as well as the legitimacy of Indian elections in the world. We need to be confident that the use of VVPATs and M3 EVMs will bring further transparency and credibility by putting doubts about data leakage and security aside.
Benjamin B Bederson, B. L., 2003. Electronic Voting System Usability Issues. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on human factors in computing systems.pp. 145-152.
Boram, R. J, 1984. Patent No. US4641240A. USA.
BVerfG, 2009. Judgment of the Second Senate of 03 March 2009 – 2 BvC 3/07 – paras. pp. 1-166 .
Citizens Information. Voting in a referendum. Available at: https://bit.ly/2QoHxvJ. Accessed on October 3, 2018.
DW, 2017. German election: Volunteers organize the voting and count the ballots.
EDRi, 2004. Ireland cancels e-voting.
Election Commission of India, 2017. EVM-Challenge-reg, Available at: https://bit.ly/2A6KHPz.
Election Commission of India, 2018. Status paper on electronic voting machine, Available at: https://bit.ly/2IWuxep.
Elections Canada, 2012. Technologies in the voting process: An overview of emerging trends and initiatives, Available at: https://bit.ly/2DVNsaa.
Hari K., P. J, 2010. Security Analysis of India’s Electronic Voting Machines. Proc. 17th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security. pp. 1-25.
Harris, J. P, 1934. Election Administration in the United States. Washington: Brookings Institution Press.
India Today, 2017. Electronic Voting Machine: Here’s all you wanted know about India’a EVMs, India Today, April 3.