A controversial demonstration of the Electronic Voting Machine last week in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind district last week seemed to lend credence to the opposition’s accusation that voting machines could be tampered with. It is a charge that the Election Commission has strongly rejected more than once this week. And now, a top poll panel official flown into the state to oversee by-polls to two assembly seats over the weekend has decided to hold 150 demonstrations to put all doubts to rest.
The demonstration last week had triggered a massive outcry from the opposition. Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh of the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party’s Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal rushed to Election Commission in Delhi citing reports from Bhind that the machine voted for the BJP even when other candidates were selected during the demonstration. They insisted it was evidence that the EVMs could, and had been tampered with.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Electoral Officer Bhanwar Lal – who was flown in to Madhya Pradesh to “supervise” by-elections to Ater and Bandhavgarh assembly seats after the controversy broke out – told NDTV there was nothing wrong with the voting machine. But local officials didn’t carry out the mandated basic procedures before making the controversial demonstration, he said.
This led to the confusion.
Someone should have erased the data in the VVPAT – Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail – that had been kept in reserve for the Kanpur’s Govindnagar assembly segment during the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections that ended last month, he said.
It was a mistake that has cost three district officers their job. They were transferred out and an inquiry started against 19 others for not doing their job.
Because this was not done, the VVPAT, which lets voters know if the machine voted for the different candidate than the one selected by the candidate, allegedly showed the name of the BJP candidate from Kanpur’s Govindnagar more than once.
“The clearing of data of the Kanpur (election) had not happened,” Mr Lal told NDTV, pointing that this was a basic step that should have been followed. “We call it the First Level Check, in which the last data is erased. In this case, this wasn’t done,” he said, denying that the machines had been tampered with, or were faulty.
At a review meeting on Tuesday, Mr Lal also decided to counter the possible doubts in public mind due to the high-pitch campaign by the opposition by showing voters how the voting machines work. A plan has been drawn up to organise 150 demonstrations in various parts of the district before the by-polls on April 9.
This is the first time that VVPATs will be deployed in the state; it was introduced in eight parliamentary constituencies during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections after an experimental launch in one constituency in Nagaland. Every time a voter selects a candidate in the EVM, the attached audit trail machine prints the name of the candidate selected by the voter. This name is visible for seven seconds for the voter. If there are allegations of EVM tampering, the printed votes can be compared with the total count in the EVM.