While political parties are busy in mudslinging and undermining each other to appease voters a month ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the questions puzzling people is if Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) paper trail would be used this poll, and if it would, would the secrecy of the ballot be compromised.
The Election Commission (EC) has yet not announced anything about the usage of the EVM paper trail in the upcoming elections despite a Supreme Court direction to introduce it in a "phased manner" for the general elections in 2014. The paper trail system provides evidence-based voting and curbs bogus voting.
A group of citizens from Mumbai on Monday wrote to the chief election commissioner, VS Sampat, seeking information about EC's plan to use the paper trail system in the general elections. Dr Tushar Jagtap, a dermatologist and president of Maha Mumbai Sabha, told dna, "In view of the SC order, we would like to know in how many parliamentary constituencies EC is introducing EVM-VVPAT incorporated machines."
The SC, in its October 8, 2013, order, had said the Vote Verifier Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system with EVMs would ensure "free and fair" polls and help in "sorting out disputes". The court had also directed the Centre to provide financial assistance for the system. The VVPAT system records each vote cast on paper. Once a voter presses a button on the EVM, a light glows. A printer with a drop box next to the ballot unit flashes the serial number, name of the candidate and the party symbol to confirm the voter's choice. A paper slip then gets deposited in the drop box after the voter confirms his/her choice. The system doesn't allow voters to get the slip as proof of their vote due to "security reasons". However, candidates can apply for counting of the slips.
The Maha Mumbai Sabha has also expressed its concern over the secrecy of the ballot in the VVPAT. "The voters' preference can be tracked easily through VVPAT, which would not only compromise the secrecy of the ballot, it may also lead to discrimination of certain villages and polling areas," said Jagtap.
The VVPAT was used during the Nagaland assembly elections at 21 polling stations in February 2013 and at the New Delhi constituency during the Delhi assembly elections in December 2013.
State election officer Nitin Gadre and national deputy election commissioner Alok Shukla were unavailable for comment.
Ajit Ranade, co-founder of the Association of Democratic Reforms, said, "The secrecy of the ballot under VVPAT has not been discussed much mainly due to lack of knowledge." Ranade also said EC's state of preparedness with regard to VVPAT is unclear till now.
Approximately 13 lakh machines are needed for the general elections which may require a budget of Rs1,500 crore. Only two state-owned companies — Bharat Electronic Ltd and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd — manufacture them.
Advocate Abha Singh termed the VVPAT as "an eco-unfriendly exercise". "When we are conducting polls in several phases and have enough paramilitary forces to ensure the security of the EVMS, the paper trail would just be a waste of paper and money," she said.