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|November 24, 1998||
Electronic voting machines on a roll in Rajasthan
Syed Firdaus Ashraf
Dhyanchand Sharma (35), a rickshaw driver from Shastri Nagar, Kishan Pole constituency in Jaipur, is eagerly waiting to cast his vote tomorrow.
It isn't that he is going to vote for the first time in his life. This is actually the tenth time. But this time, he is among the 906,081 voters in Rajasthan who get to cast their vote on an electronic voting machine.
There are only five constituencies in Rajasthan which have EVMs -- Kishan Pole, Hawa Mahal and Johari Bazaar constituencies in Jaipur, and Ajmer (East) and Ajmer (West).
With an EVM, the ordeal of ballot papers and boxes is dispensed with. The voter just has to press the button against the name of the candidate for whom s/he desires to vote. A beep confirms that the vote has been cast successfully.
"I've seen a film on how to cast the vote on television. And, I'm confident I will be able to vote without making a mistake," says Dhyanchand.
"The Election Commission felt the maximum number of literates are in these five constituencies. On an experimental basis, we are trying these five," says Brijendar Singh Parmar, joint chief election officer of the Rajasthan government.
There are nearly 1,070 booths in these five constituencies and there are 2,140 EVMs already in place. Only one will be operational in each of the booths, the other is a backup.
Seven thousand EVMs were brought to Rajasthan in 1991 for use in the 1993 assembly elections. But the central Election Commission office did not permit the state EC office to use these machines.
Unused for the last seven years, the batteries expired. The government has ordered nearly 2,300 pencil batteries, costing Rs 450,000.
But overall, even the Election Commission feels the EVM is a cheaper and faster option than the old ballot boxes.
Says Parmar, "There are 40,000 polling stations in Rajasthan. EVMs, which cost Rs 5,000 each, last long." The EVMs for 40,000 polling stations cost Rs 20 million - the cost of printing ballot paper is nearly twice that amount.
Another plus point of the machine is that counting is done in ten minutes. The votes of the entire constituency can be counted in two hours. By comparison, ballot boxes take 10-12 hours for counting to get done. ''So a lot of time is saved and there's little manual labour involved,'' says Parmar.
The machine weighs just half a kilogram, uses no software and, at its widest, is no more than two feet.
It consists of two parts, one of which allows one vote at a time; the other, lying with the returning officer, allows him to de-activate it after the voter makes his choice and then re-activate it for the next voter. The vote is counted then itself and because, there is no way of opting for more than one option, it reduces the chances of votes being declared invalid.
The nicest possible thing about the EVM is that replacement of ballot boxes or their contents is eliminated. And short of battering it to pieces there's no way the information in an EVM can be removed or changed.
Says Pavan Jha, officer in charge, Rajasthan State Agency for Computer Services. "The entire procedure is set up in such a way that there can be no fault in the voting process."
So there can be no mistake, we ask. ''Yes,'' admits Jha. It is unlikely but there is the possibility that an illiterate or confused voter could press a button without knowing which party he is voting for.
But the Rajasthan Election Commission is trying to avoid such problems by showing on film how a person can use an EVM.
Besides, the EC officials are visiting the slums and other backward areas, explaining how the machine can be used. The machines are also on display at places they are to be used. The EC has also conducted trial tests with slum-dwellers and are confident that everything will function smoothly.
Posters and pamphlets extolling the virtues of the EVM have been widely distributed in the cities.
Chief Election Commissioner M S Gill too visited Jaipur and interacted with the voters, again all in the cause of the wonder machine.
Information about the voting procedure is also available on the Internet at http://www.rajasthan.net/election/ or www.rajcomp.com.
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