An Indian man on his two-wheeler transports five children with their schoolbags and other belongings back home from school in Bangalore yesterday. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: Political parties have come up with a novel way to force the Election Commission of India to abandon electronic voting machines and revert to using ballot papers for the Bihar elections.

The strategy is to put up more candidates for the Bihar legislative assembly elections in each of the 243 constituencies than the machines can cope with.

The strategy was successfully tried in five of the 12 assembly by-elections held last week in Andhra Pradesh. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti, fearing the ruling Congress party may manipulate electronic voting machines in their favour, ensured that the number of candidates exceeded 64 — the maximum the electronic voting machines are designed to process. This forced the conventional paper ballot and ballot boxes to be used.

Several opposition parties have for some time been trying, without success, to convince the Election Commission to abandon the use of the electronic machines, saying that they can be manipulated to favour a particular political party.

Electronic voting machines made in 1989-90 were used on an experimental basis in 16 constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi in the November 1998 assembly elections, and across the country in the 2004 and 2009 general elections.

Political parties often complain that although voters press the button for the party of their choice, their votes are registered wrongly. Each balloting unit attached to an electronic voting machine can accommodate only 16 candidates and a maximum of four balloting units can be attached to the machine. If the total number of candidates exceeds 64, the Election Commission has no option but to go in for the ballot papers and ballot boxes. Voting machine opponents said their only advantage was that counting became fast and results could be obtained within hours.

"Ensuring there are more than 64 candidates in the fray would not be a problem. We can get our workers to file their nominations and independents and ask them to retire after the last date of withdrawal of names. That way they would not campaign but their names would remain on the list of candidates," said a Janata Dal (United) office bearer in Delhi.