The Election Commission on Friday formally threw a ‘challenge’ to political parties to prove electronic voting machines used in the recent assembly polls were tampered with after several opposition parties questioned their reliability and demanded going back to the paper ballot system.
Several major opposition parties had claimed the faith of people in the machines has eroded.
While announcing the challenge at an all-party meeting convened by the Commission here, Chief Election Commission Nasim Zaidi, however, did not mention any date for the proposed event.
He said parties can try and prove that EVMs can be tampered with even under strict technical and administrative safeguards as applicable during elections.
An EC official said the challenge will not be restricted to machines used in recent assembly polls.
"Other machines will also be available. But since allegations were regarding the elections, the CEC made specific mention," he said.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday claimed the Election Commission has ‘backed out of the proposed hackathon’ to ascertain the reliability of EVMs and said it was a ‘sad’ move.
‘Sad that EC has backed out of hackathon,’ Kejriwal tweeted.
After the all-party meeting convened by the EC, Kejriwal’s deputy Manish Sisodia sought to know why the poll panel was ‘scared’ of holding a ‘hackathon’ when electronic voting machines cannot be hacked into.
“We had tampered with an EVM in the Delhi Assembly few days back. We request the Election Commission to give us one of the EVMs used in the five state assembly polls and we will also hack into it,” the deputy chief minister told reporters.
This is for the first time that Zaidi or the Commission has gone on record on the proposed challenge.
"Although use of VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail system) with EVMs will ensure total credibility and transparency and put to rest all controversy, the Commission will, after today’s meeting, hold a challenge," he said.
It will offer an opportunity to political parties to demonstrate that EVM used in recent elections were tampered with or that the machines can be tampered with even under strict technical and administrative safeguards as applicable during elections, Zaidi said.
At the meeting, most of the parties said future elections should be held using EVMs provided they are attached to paper trail machines.
There were, however, some parties whose representatives said their faith in the machines has eroded and the EC should revert to the old ballot paper system.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India, the CPI-Marxist, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Janata Dal-United clearly supported use of EVMs, provided paper trail machines are attached to it, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Trinamool Congress said the paper ballot system was better and more transparent.
The Congress was of the view that if EVMs are used there should be transparency at every level so that political parties and voters are separately convinced about the reliability of the machine. It said the Supreme Court has been stressing on more transparency, which necessarily does not mean use of EVMs. It said paper trail machines with all EVMs in future elections was fine.
The BSP and AAP had alleged that the machines used in the recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Punjab were tampered with and favoured the BJP.
Later, several other parties had joined the chorus and wanted the EC to revert to paper ballots.
Sources in the Commission said AAP’s Manish Sisodia preferred to use the term ‘hackathon’. But some commission officials said the challenge cannot be termed as hackathon as no internet or remote access to the EVM was involved.
‘EC refuses to go for a hackathon. It said we will throw a challenge to prove that EVMs were tampered with in recent polls,’ Sisodia tweeted.
Zaidi told parties that their ‘concerns and apprehensions’ regarding EVMs have been taken note of and will be addressed through the ‘forthcoming challenge’ and other measures which the EC will take.
Other electoral reforms such as corporate funding, making bribing of voters a non-bailable offence and disqualifying candidates charge-sheeted by courts for offering bribe to electors also came up for discussion.
Political representatives who attended the meeting said most parties were opposed to the decision that corporate entities would no longer have to name the parties to which they have made a donation. They said it would reduce transparency in funding.
Most of the parties were opposed to the idea of disqualifying candidates charge-sheeted by courts for offering bribe to voters. They felt disqualifying a candidate at charge sheet level was unfair.
They also opposed a proposal to allow EC countermand an election if large-scale use of money power to influence voters comes to light. They said proving use of money power was difficult.
The CEC said the Commission will ensure 100 per cent paper trail coverage in all future elections to the Lok Sabha and state legislative assemblies.
A particular percentage of VVPATs slips to be determined by the EC will be counted. The poll panel will soon evolve a framework in this regard.
VVPAT is a machine which dispenses a slip with the symbol of the party for which a person has voted for. The slip drops in a box which the voter can see but cannot take home.
Zaidi also said the commission has ‘no favourites’ and it was equidistant from all parties.
"You should be convinced that EC has no favourites...we maintain equidistance from all parties and groups. It is our constitutional and moral duty to stand dead centre of the circle drawn around us by 56 political parties (seven national and 49 state recognised parties)," he said.
His remarks come against the backdrop of Delhi Chief Minister and AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal reportedly questioning the independence of two Election Commissioners A K Joti and O P Rawat.
Following the allegations, Rawat had recused himself from the cases related to disqualification of AAP MLAs the commission is hearing.