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August 24, 1999


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The Rediff Election Specials/ M D Riti

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For the first time, Electronic Voting Machines are to be used extensively in the assembly and Lok Sabha polls next month. At least 45 parliamentary constituencies spread out over 17 states will use them, in addition to another 64 assembly constituencies. It is mostly the urban segments that have been picked out for the use of this gadget this time.

The EVM has been used in the Indian electoral process before. "The entire Goa elections two months ago were conducted using this form of polling," joint chief election commissioner N Kshetrapal told "So were the elections in Delhi, Rajasthan and UP over the past few months. But this is the first time that such a system of secret balloting is being attempted on such a wide scale."

The EVM was actually designed and developed by Bharat Electronics Ltd in Bangalore almost two decades ago. It was used for the first time in the Kerala assembly polls in 1982. That original gadget was upgraded over the next decade, and the present units are quite hi-tech. It is made as per a design approved by the Election Commission of India, by two companies in India now: BEL of Bangalore and the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd of Hyderabad.

This gizmo is particularly suited to the Indian electoral process in the sense it retains all the visual characteristics of the ballot paper, and is now perceived as the ideal tool for both the voters and the electoral authorities. It is fast, reliable, and also saves a lot of time, money and manpower. It is tamper proof and also makes counting most simple: all that you have to do is press a button to get the results.

The EVM basically consists of two units that are to be interlinked. One is an electronic ballot box that a voter uses to cast his vote, the other is a control unit that is in the control of the presiding or the first polling officer. The names of all the candidates standing for election are displayed on the top of the ballot box. This is done by the Election Commission authorities inserting a paper bearing the names and symbols of all the candidates contesting from that constituency under a clear plastic panel on top of the box. All that the voter has to do is press the button beside the name and symbol of the candidate that he wants to choose.

In those polling stations where assembly and Parliament elections are being conducted simultaneously -- like, for example, in Karnataka -- there will be two EVMs, one for each of the upper and lower houses. And soon as the voter steps into the room, his name and address will be checked, as usual, against a master list of voters, and he will be given a slip of paper bearing his serial number. Then, he or she gets his/her finger marked by indelible ink, and is directed towards a small half-covered booth in which one -- or a pair -- of the electronic ballot boxes are placed.

By the time he or she enters, the presiding electoral officer presses a button marked 'ballot' on his or her control unit. As soon as this is done, a lamp labeled 'busy' will glow in the control unit and another one marked 'ready' will glow on the balloting unit. This 'ready' green light will keep glowing until the voter records his/her vote. When the voter presses the button next to the name and symbol of the candidate of his choice, a red light will immediately glow beside that name, accompanied by a loud beep, indicating that that vote has been recorded. The vote goes automatically into the account of that candidate.

Once all the votes for the day have been recorded, then the polling officer must press a button marked 'close,' after which automatically the machine will zstop registering any more votes. The control unit has a central panel that covers the buttons through which the results can be counted and the final tallies provided in a matter of seconds. These buttons are to be covered with paper seals, and sealed again with string seals and wax, to guard against tampering. If the counting officers detect any breakage in the paper seals, they will know that there has been foul play.

The main advantage of this machine is its speed, and the fact that it needs no special training or knowledge of electronics on the part of the voter. Each ballot unit can accommodate up to 16 names. If a constituency has more than 16 candidates, you can continue the list or ballot paper on another connected machine. Each control unit can receive data from up to four ballot units. In other words, an EVM can accommodate even 64 candidates in a single election.

This machine works on a battery power source, making it quite independent and reliable. A single magnesium battery in the control units powers all the linked units. The control unit has extremely sensitive circuitry that takes care of common election errors or malpractices like vote duplication. If, for example, a voter were to press two buttons simultaneously, then no vote would be cast. Or if two buttons are pressed one after the other, the EVM can detect which one was pressed first, to within a micro-second.

From the point of view of the officers conducting the polls, the EVM is a very helpful device. The control unit displays the total votes polled, seals the box at the end of the polls and even declares results, all at the press of a button. It is completely tamper proof as it has software that completely seals it after use. And it has a memory power of five years, even if it is switched off or not in use. This is to make it easier for examination in case of disputed results.

The PCBs that go into the EVMs are subjected to severe vibration tests to ensure that the gadget is strong and sturdy. Then, thermal shocks subject the boards to a temperature cycle of +70 degrees centigrade to 25 degrees centigrade to weed out defective components. A special fault detector software ensures that each microchip is fit enough for the tasks that the EVM must perform.

After the board is packaged, the entire EVM is subjected to an electronically simulated polling, which includes the rough handling that the gadget is bound to be exposed to. Finally, a burn-in test exposes the machine to temperatures of over 50 degrees centigrade for over eight hours at a stretch, to ensure steady performance even in adverse climatic conditions. A totaliser software has now also been designed to enable the collation of voting information from various control units used in an election.


Chief features of the EVM:

1) Tamper-proof: Voting information not lost even with removal of battery, and once the close button is pressed, the machine is disabled for further voting. Software program detects malpractices like cutting of cables and constant button pressing.

2) Speedy voting: Polling for up to 64 candidates, simultaneous elections to two houses, instant declaration of results.

3) Instant results: Total votes polled can be checked during polling, but the number of votes per candidate can be checked only at the end of polling only after the unit has been sealed with the 'close' button.

4) Easy to operate: Even illiterates can vote easily, by pressing the button against the candidate's party symbol and name. Polling officer will operate ballot unit, display total votes polled and close the polling.

5) Paper efficient: the EVM is environment friendly as it saves the use of paper for making ballot papers, printing costs and the making of ballot papers.

6) Manpower requirement: Personnel required for electoral process will be cut down as no counting is necessary, and no security forces for guarding ballot boxes during counting and in transit.

The Rediff Election Specials

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