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EVMs score on speed, security

Subhomoy Bhattacharya in Delhi | May 03, 2004 17:54 IST

The results for the ongoing Assembly and Lok Sabha elections will all be out by the evening of May 13, which will be a record of sorts in ballot counting, according to officials of the Election Commission.

They also say that though we are at the halfway stage of the general election, the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) has been a total success.

The commission feels that the malfunction of only about 70 odd machines out of the 63,000 used across the country has adequately demonstrated that what started as an experiment during the 1998 assembly elections in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, has now become an acceptable voting platform.

Over the years, there have been several court cases against the use of EVMs.

However, for the EC the litmus test of the efficacy of EVMs is whether their use has succeeded in preventing electoral malpractices like booth capturing.

According to the EC, though EVMs can be damaged in the same way as ballot boxes were damaged previously, other methods of booth capturing like stamping of ballot papers for a single candidate by miscreants are no longer possible.

The crucial feature of an EVM, which allows it to ensure fair polling, is the fact that they can record just five votes per minute.

This means that not only is the involvement of the polling officials necessary to rig elections, there also has to be a crowd of miscreants to post votes very quickly. Even then, building up a sizeable vote count will take a lot of time, at the rate of about only 150 votes every half hour.

In contrast, elections held through ballot papers are open to abuse. Miscreants can distribute, say 5,000 ballot papers among themselves, stamp and stuff them in the boxes and escape before police reinforcements arrive, the EC says.

EVMs have an additional safety feature in the form of a 'Close' button, which polling officers can use to automatically shut off the machine at the sign of any disturbance.

The machine's salient features

  • Each electronic voting machine (EVM) costs Rs 5,500

  • The machines, manufactured by Bharat Electronics Ltd and the Electronic Corporation of India, run on 6 volt batteries

  • The chips are imported from the US and can store data for 10 years

  • A 'Close' button helps polling officers shut off the machine at the sign of any disturbance

On a polling day, roaming officials carry about 10 spare sets each. If a machine goes out of order, a spare can be used instead. But the votes cast in the original machine will not be lost.

This means there is no need to re-vote, as the original ones will remain stored in the memory of the machine, till such time the commission decides to retrieve them.

The biggest advantage of EVMs is that they have drastically cut down counting time and made declaration of results a smooth affair.

Each machine costs Rs 5,500 and has two parts, a control unit that remains with the presiding officer and the balloting unit that is in the voting compartment.

Once the presiding officer switches on the machine by pressing a button located on his unit, the voter records his vote by pressing a red button against a candidate's name. As soon as the vote is recorded the system locks in and no amount of tampering can alter this record.

The EC said it expected all results of these elections to be available by the evening of May 13, the day counting begins.

In fact, they said, the only delay would be procedural ones, like matching the signature of candidates on each sealed machine, cross-checking the number of votes polled with the number of voters as certified manually by each polling booth.

The time required to declare the actual results would not take more than 2-3 hours, they said.

Even unlettered voters seem to find this system simpler than ballot papers. This has been reflected in the drop in the number of votes that have been countermanded in constituencies where EVMs were used for the last round of assembly elections in several states last year.

The machines, manufactured by Bharat Electronics Ltd and Electronic Corporation of India, run on 6 volt batteries. The chips are imported from the US and can store data in their memory for 10 years.

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