The General Elections are just a few months away and controversies surrounding Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) are back in the news. While the Opposition is maintaining that the EVMs can be tampered with and wants to go back to paper ballots, the ruling party is opposing this move. The Election Commission has always maintained that the EVMs cannot be tampered with.

In a move to make the use of EVMs even more fool-proof, the EC has announced that there will be 100 per cent use of VVPATs during the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. This, it hopes, will make the voting process more transparent and lend it credibility to gain voter confidence.

What is it?

VVPAT is an independent system attached to an EVM that allows the voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended. When a vote is cast, a slip is printed on the VVPAT printer containing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate voted. This remains visible to you through a transparent window for seven seconds. Thereafter, this printed slip automatically gets cut and falls into a sealed drop box. If need be, these printouts can later be counted.

In October 2010, political parties expressed their satisfaction with EVMs, but some parties requested the Commission to consider introducing VVPATs for further transparency and verifiability of the votes cast.

The Commission referred the matter to its technical committee on EVMs to examine and make a recommendation to the Commission. The committee first met with the manufacturers and then with political parties and other civil society members to explore the design requirements of the VVPAT system. In 2011, BEL and ECIL made a prototype of the VVPAT and demonstrated it to the technical committee and the Election Commission.

In the same year the Commission conducted simulated elections for the field trial of the VVPAT system in various places including Thiruvananthapuram, Ladakh, Cherrapunji and Jaisalmer.

Two years later, the government amended the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 allowing the Commission to use VVPATs along with EVMs. These were first used in the bye-election for the Noksen Assembly seat in Nagaland in 2013. Thereafter VVPATs have been used in select constituencies in every election to the State Assemblies. They were deployed in eight Parliamentary constituencies during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, VVPATs will be used in all the constituencies.

Why is it important?

In the world’s largest democracy, every vote counts and the EVMs and VVPATs try and ensure that the massive election process is in tune with the latest technological advancements. Though the Commission has never doubted the workings of EVMs and their utility in a free and fair electoral process, VVPATs add another layer of transparency and reliability to convince voters about the sanctity of EVMs.

EVMs and VVPATs being used in this year’s Lok Sabha elections will ensure that close to 80 crore voters eligible to cast their votes can do so knowing that their votes will go to the candidates of their choice. EVMs and VVPATs also quicken the election process as counting votes on EVMs takes much lesser time than counting paper ballots. The EVMs and VVPATs are also environment-friendly as they use very little paper compared to paper ballots.

Why should I care?

If you have niggling doubts about whether your vote has gone to the candidate and party you chose, the VVPAT will now let you double-check this. If you can’t wait, EVMs help you get to know the election results far more quickly than before.

The bottomline

VVPATs are no guarantee that losing candidates will stop questioning the tamper-proof nature of EVMs.