New Delhi: The Election Commission has ruled out the possibility of going back to paper ballots in place of electronic voting machines (EVMs).
It added that it is working on a formula that will “minimise errors and maximise confidence” in EVMs.
The commission also says simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the assemblies are not possible now given legal constraints. It says no political party has demanded going back to ballot papers at an all-party meeting with the Election Commission recently.
“I have been reading in the newspapers. That’s why it must be coming in the media. Some editorials have come, some lead articles have come [about EVMs] that something which has eradicated booth capturing has eradicated the muscle power,” said OP Rawat, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), in an interview at his office at Nirvachan Sadan, the headquarters of the Election Commission of India. “The EVMs have eradicated that stigma on the our voters that they cannot even vote; that so many votes are invalidated. Even at times [the] victory margin is less than number of invalid votes.”
“So all these issues have been flagged by even media that there is no point going back to [paper ballots]. Why do you want to bring back those days? When people never used to talk about campaigner or anything, now they would talk how many booths did you capture. If you captured 83 and I have captured 150. I am going to win,” Rawat said.
He was replying to a question about the opposition demand to go back to the paper ballot system in view of the apprehensions that the EVMs could be manipulated, an allegation some major opposition parties have levelled in the past few years after electoral defeats.
The parties also demanded an increase in the sample number of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) for physical counting to cross check whether the vote had gone to the intended candidate.
Rawat said no party demanded dispensing with the EVMs and a total return to the paper ballots during the all-party conference convened by the Election Commission last month.
“Yes, I have been reading in the newspapers,” he said when told about the claim of some leaders of having made such a demand. “Media has been telling that and, therefore, the Election Commission is just acting as the constitutional authority to conduct the elections and in the process the Commission has to keep all major stakeholders satisfied. Therefore, we are trying to convince them since in the all-party meeting they all said that the number [of VVPATs] should be increased [for taking up sample counting].”
The CEC said at the all-party meeting that the points raised by parties included that either more slips of VVPATs should be counted because right now the counting is done from only one randomly-selected polling station.
“So as of now, VVPATs will be counted in 4,120 Assembly constituencies that form part of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies. But since they [parties] have suggested that more should be counted, the Commission is seized of the matter. The Commission is examining,” Rawat said.
“There are two issues — one is our stakeholders should be happy and satisfied but at the same time, since we are operating in a global environment it will be decided whether [the sample] should be one per cent, 10 per cent or 12 per cent. It will be done on a scientific basis to minimise the error and maximise the confidence level of the stakeholders... so statistically, it will be a sample size which minimises errors and maximises the confidence level to 99.9999 per cent... that kind of thing the Commission is looking for,” the CEC said.
Asked what would be the ideal size of samples, he said: “If that was known, we would have ordered that. We need statisticians to work on this. So I can’t predict how many days it will take but it will take more days.”
To another query, Rawat said “the issue was not of practicability but a solution that is acceptable to all and whenever this solution is available, say within the next two-three weeks, the Commission will take a decision.”
But, he said, he cannot say definitely whether the new solution could be applied in the coming round of Assembly elections in four or five states.
Asked about the demand from opposition parties for a cap on the expenses on party account, Rawat said there can be no different views on this. The Commission has already submitted a reform proposal that would like a ceiling on the party expenditure like there is a ceiling on candidates’ expenditure.
“But this question should be put to all the parties. Because it is not that this party is in power for eternity. You were in power...you could have brought it,” he said.
Asked about the simultaneous elections being pushed by BJP, the CEC said it was not possible given the current laws as the Constitution had to be amended and there should be amendments in other electoral laws.
He said even the Law Commission has said what the Election Commission had said in 2016. “But the Election Commission had said this in 2015 when we were asked that you [Parliament] will have to amend the Constitution. Sections of the Representation of the People Act have to be amended since you have to provide for logistics.
“Logistics would have three issues. One is the number of machines, number two Central Armed Police Force because generally political parties these days insist we don’t have any faith in the state police. So if you want simultaneous elections you will need more whatever is available now will not do. So more of that, then more of vehicles, more of police personnel, more of all that. So those are logistical issues that will have to be addressed before doing it.”