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Were there EVMs in the 1930s?

Published Mar 21, 2017 06:41am

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HOW can the opposition wrest power from Prime Minister Modi in 2019? If everybody is united and their votes are not split, the 41 per cent the prime minister’s party got with his allies in Uttar Pradesh, for example, would see him struggling against a united 59pc. Such wishful arguments have been heard in unyielding and combative liberal spaces over the last few days. Serious analysts, however, seem cautious about such a turn of events.

Some critics of the government have raised the issue of electronic voting machines (EVMs) as the more insurmountable of the challenges they could face in 2019, as if getting the incorrigibly fractious opposition together was the easier part.

In 2009, the anti-EVM boot was on the other foot. The Manmohan Singh government was returned for a second term in spite of (some say because of) its apparent soft handling of the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008. The BJP was not expecting Congress to win and one of its younger leaders shot off a complaint against the EVMs used in Dr Singh’s second election in the form of a book.

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, currently the BJP’s spokesperson, titled his plaint Democracy at Risk! Can we trust our Electronic Voting Machines? Senior BJP leader Lal Kishan Advani wrote the foreword to the book, which was published in 2010.


Electronic voting machines, like all other machines, are prone to errors and malfunctioning.


Around this time, Subramanian Swamy, another BJP stalwart, took the issue to the court. He argued forcefully that EVMs were a terrible idea and listed the number of countries that had rejected it. His comments against EVMs are available on YouTube but surprisingly no TV channel or newspaper wants to know how he feels about the system of paper-free voting today.

When the BJP scored a resounding victory in Uttar Pradesh recently, former chief minister Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) turned out to be a big loser. She immediately cast aspersions on EVMs and claimed the electronic system was rigged. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was also perplexed by the less than handsome showing of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab even though the new entrant emerged as the main opposition to the Congress there, which, according to him, unexpectedly won in Punjab.

Mr Kejriwal and Ms Mayawati are on the opposite ends of the probity scale. She is accused of corruption and he has been leading a campaign against corruption. But the two may have an amazing factor in common. Neither of them is known to have generous friends in the corporate world, certainly not of the scale that approaches their major rivals.

The AAP uses crowd sourcing to raise funds while Ms Mayawati reportedly counts on her candidates to fend for themselves. The effect of this could be similar to what renowned filmmaker Saeed Mirza told me years ago. He said if you don’t borrow money from the market, and get funded by the government, for example, your movie would struggle to find a theatre for a halfway decent release.

We have not heard of any serious complaints from any other party about the EVMs, except the BSP and AAP. It is believed powerful business captains regard the two as a threat to their hold on Indian politics. However, when BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu said there was nothing wrong with EVMs, but there was something wrong with Ms Mayawati, he may not have been aware of what his own party leaders had said about electronic voting.

“In many democracies of the world, the issue of electronic voting machines has become a matter of widespread public discussion,” Mr Advani wrote in his foreword to Mr Rao’s book. “In India, we have been conducting our elections through this device for the last two Lok Sabha elections and also in various assembly elections held recently. But as yet there has been little debate on how useful these machines have proved.”

He was happy that the author had managed to compile “all the facts he could on the subject and initiate a debate”. There has been no debate really, only accusations. The election commission insists the EVMs it uses are tamper-proof, which means that India has found a way to assemble a foolproof system that Germany and other Western democracies couldn’t.

“I personally regard it significant that Germany, technologically, one of the most advanced countries of the world, has become so wary of EVMs as to ban their use altogether,” Mr Advani wrote, echoing more or less the sentiments Mr Swamy had expressed. “Many states in the USA have mandated that EVMs can be used only if they have a paper back-up. So manufacturers of electronic voting machines in the USA have developed a technology referred to as Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).” India’s election commission has been reportedly asking the Modi government for the last two years to fund this paper-linked improvement but the response is tardy.

Every voter using the EVM in many US states gets a printout in a ballot box so that if there is any discrepancy in the machine the paper ballots can be counted. Electronic voting machines, like all other machines, are prone to errors and malfunctioning. No machine is infallible. They can never be. This was the sentiment of the book Mr Rao wrote.

For instance, he pointed out, the electronic voting system installed in India’s parliament, had failed on a number of occasions and MPs had difficulty in registering their votes.

In the confidence vote on the Manmohan Singh government in September 2008, 54 Lok Sabha MPs failed to register their votes electronically. They were finally allowed to vote manually.

Remember though that in the 1930s Europe, there were no EVMs. It was Hermann Goering strategically installed as president of the Reichstag who helped Hitler fudge a make-or-break parliamentary vote and lured a gullible people with fascism’s mysterious appeal.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017



The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (35) Closed



Surendra Sukhtankar Mar 21, 2017 06:58am

Where there EVMs in 1917 when Lenin captured Russia or in 1949 when Mao took over China?

SID Mar 21, 2017 07:01am

VVPAT system ( EVM machine with print out ballot ) was used partially in UP election. Out of 30 seats where VVPAT system was used , 25 was won by BJP. How does that explain ?

Mood of the indian voter is too wild to guess. Main stream media & political party has failed to understand it from a long time. Just gathering of more public doesn't translate in to votes. Ditto was case with AAP .

AYZA Mar 21, 2017 07:06am

TOUCHE Mr. Naqvi!

"The election commission insists the EVMs it uses are tamper-proof, which means that India has found a way to assemble a foolproof system that Germany and other Western democracies couldn’t."

FYI to the endless pro-Modi Indian commentators defending EVM's "accuracy" : when George W. Bush Jr. won against Al Gore in the 2000 Presidential race, can anyone guess why EVM software glitches were questioned and a recount was mandated till shut down by the US Supreme Court? Due to the fact that GW's brother Jeb Bush was extremely close friends with the Diebold EVM company which manufactured the same EVM's used in the 2000 election which his younger brother, G.W. Bush won... simply a coincidence??

riz1 Mar 21, 2017 07:36am

Those grapes are sour.

R S Chakravarti Mar 21, 2017 07:35am

As far as I can remember, in the earlier system every ballot paper had a serial number which was noted down just before we cast our vote. We were assured that this wouldn't compromise secrecy! VVPAT doesn't sound very good either. It could help the authorities monitor the voters.

akshay Mar 21, 2017 07:52am

The EVM is not a single machine, thousands of them are used and each of them is an island to itself. Its not connected to anything, has no internet access.

The technology used is deliberately low end and guarded. To claim that you lost an entire election with thousands of machines and hundreds of candidates, where difference is votes is in thousands if not hundreds of thousands, does not make sense.

This is also reflected in election results, not many governments have been able to sustain power for long and there have been changes. The BJP was in power in Punjab, and it lost there, its chief minister in Goa lost his seat.

BSP, SP have won elections in UP and AAP in Delhi before using the same machines, nobody complained then, and people who complained actually have neither shown any expertise nor demonstrated any method despite being challenged several times by the EC.

I'm concerned_ Mar 21, 2017 08:26am

It is easy to wax off philosophy about Germans not using EVM when the voting population is less than 50 million.

It's logistical nightmare to print, distribute, vote, count, reconcile 750 million ballots.

Please use EVM, no need to cut trees or waste gasoline to distribute all those ballots.

Sanjay Mar 21, 2017 08:36am

There is no "combative liberal space " in India. Its one kind of communalism or other. While one masks itself as secularism the other at least is straight forward. Indians know this dichotomy very well

PrakashG Mar 21, 2017 08:53am

The real bug in elections in India is not EVM's; it is the voter registration. In every election, millions of voters find their names missing in the voting lists, and this is what the Election Commission should address as an urgent matter. The electoral rolls should be compiled centrally, governed by an independent authority, and with local or state agencies having no role in the matter.

Shailendra Mar 21, 2017 09:14am

These are all philosophical and political arguments which has zero value when we are discussing a machine , a software and security back up.

What did the Court say ...? It was all praises for the foolproof EVM and didn't even pay attention to what BJP was saying that time.

It will better to give details of the software developed by PSUs like BHEL, about the hardened Chip , about how it is inspected by every ' candidate' prior to the election, how supervised during election and how monitored at the time of counting by representative of each candidate and how it is not working on common power source or not connected to any network to avoid hacking and how all machines are stored/ transported !

Jim beam Mar 21, 2017 09:54am

Few of us who lose fix the problems within us, most will continue to blame everyone else. That is human nature. It applies to politicians and journalists.

BNJ Mar 21, 2017 10:10am

This was an expected article from Mr Naqvi.

Srinath Mar 21, 2017 10:17am

As one who was drafted into election duty and dealt with EVMs in several elections, I can say that less than 5% of EVMs are prone to malfunction. But this is factored in the system and EC makes arrangements for detection and replacements of such EVMs. Anybody who observes the process of functioning of these machines would realize that it is impossible to manipulate. Some losers tend to cry wolf in Pavlovian response to what they consider a loss of face.

bryan Mar 21, 2017 10:17am

Show us another nation where 75 crore voters are registered. You will point to China perhaps. This article and your theory is naive. Imagine the logistical inconvenience of an exercise of this size. Anyone who has carried out even a small market survey will know the enormity of their small exercise. Pakistan is currently undertaking a Census after 2 decades. Look at the challenges of enumerators in a country so diverse and pockets of inaccessibility and also dangerous. In this case the level of technology to be deployed will be low, but not in case of a ballot which in India by now is a fairly standardized template. That is what makes it manageable. Also, this article doesn't stem from the appropriateness of a machine it stems from somewhere else.

Observer Mar 21, 2017 10:21am

Why Arvind Kejriwal didn't complain about EVMs when he swept Delhi elections two years back? There is nothing wrong with EVMs. Germany is not having any new nuclear power plants also, that doesn't mean nuclear power plants are not safe. The logs can be printed from each EVM in case someone wants. Why a formal complaint is not being filed?

Jim Mar 21, 2017 11:54am

When AAP won Delhi or opposition won Bihar, everyone was happy as Modi lost. And when Modi won, the EVMs has been gamed. What logic is this. Germany may have the best technology, Indians have the best election process and a great election commission to follow and make others follow the process. Tool is just a force multiplier nothing more nothing less. Anyway India is adopting paper based audit trails voting. In fact all EVMs used in Goa this time had paper trail. Sour grapes is what this article is all about.

ashok Mar 21, 2017 12:12pm

Concerns voiced over rigging of EVMs are phony and smack of double standards. These same parties have won elections and ridden to power on the back of the same EVMs in the past. Congress, SP,AAP and BSP winning Karnataka,Kerala, Pondicherry, Delhi and UP was accepted, but the moment BJP wins UP, EVMs are rigged. And always referring to Hitler's win in 1933 is only trying to be clever by half. There are several constitutional checks and balances to prevent usurption of power by a dictator. Indira Gandhi experienced it in 1975.

Fried Chillies Mar 21, 2017 03:33pm

And to all those arguing the swelling support for Modi. Well UP results are in.....so what were you saying now???

M.S.PATIL Mar 21, 2017 03:44pm

@Fried Chillies " ......so what were you saying now??? "

Hindutva has won and soon India will be Parliamentary Democracy but State Religion will be Hinduism in the same Model like UK . And Modi and RSS will rule the Nation !!

Vineeth Mar 21, 2017 04:58pm

Losers in elections always find something to complain about other than their own shortcomings - whether it be BSP, AAP or BJP. We had enough of vote-rigging and invalid votes when ballot papers were used.

Suresh Handa Mar 21, 2017 05:06pm

Exit polls did not use EVM machines to award numbers of seats to different parties but BJP was getting highest and similar results are reflected after counting, where is doubt, I am not clear.

R.Kannan Mar 21, 2017 05:23pm

The Germans do not use EVM not because of technological issues but because the German Law does not permit anything other than paper ballots. The Indian EVM are considered the technologically most advanced with several scientific studies showing they are tamper proof. Rao, Swamy etc had made representations which were studied by the EC & SC and their contentions proved wrong.

satt Mar 21, 2017 05:43pm

People can also say there isn't anything wrong with EVM's but something is wrong with the voters.

Sk Mar 21, 2017 06:10pm

In paper voting booth captueing hapoebs abd is easier to tamoer in third world countries like ours

alla bux Mar 21, 2017 06:08pm

Considering that BJP complained about EVMs when they lost in previous elections and now Congress and others are complaining about them that they have lost the elections, it proves that the EVMs work and are tamper proof and parties are just looking for scapegoats.

P. S. Natarajan Mar 21, 2017 06:14pm

No doubt EVMs can go wrong, but at least in India, the paper ballot system was many times more faulty. It was prone to booth capturing, bungling in declaring valid votes as invalid, etc..

Raj Patel Mar 21, 2017 06:33pm

People casting doubts on EVM has no idea what is EVM doing. One EVM machine cast maximum 3500 votes and every unit of EVM is individually reprogrammed and once it is programed cant be altered. Third thing is there is no internet connectivity to EVM so remote hacking is avoided. And EC has challenged experts to hack their sealed EVM in the presence of media and others and till today none come forward to demo hacking. People came with their own EVM and give demo of hacking but never ever able to hack sealed EVM. This was EC official position and their challenge is still open. If Mr. Naquvi knows anybody who can hack sealed EVM then he should obliged EC of India to improve their EVM. This is as simple as that.

Prateik Mar 21, 2017 07:51pm

EVM is prone to error, but not all Sir.

unknown Mar 21, 2017 10:00pm

Having worked with Bharat Electronics, Mass Manufacturing Facility that developed & manufactures the EVM, i have first hand knowledge about EVMs. It is completely remote I.e no internet nor LAN nor usb nor ethernet. Only a serial port for connecting to compiler. The non rechargeable batteries supplied to power the EVMs are supplied just a moment before election begins & will last only till the election ends on the same day. The flash memory where the EVM software runs are fused i.e you can only program once in its life time. I can go on about the protections it has but the Politicians need to have a reason to save their face from humiliating defeats especially AAP, which had planned massive rallies around the Country hoping they would win Punjab & Goa.

Sk Mar 22, 2017 06:42am

Tomorrow when the BJP lose elections and it will happen sometime, please remember the same arguments and suopory BJP wheb they start to moan about EVMs. It happebed in 2009 and no one supported bjp then.

Sk Mar 22, 2017 06:44am

@AYZA in 2000 us elections the issue was not evm. It was to do with paper 'chads'

last word Mar 22, 2017 07:02am

BJP losing badly in last year elections in Bihar and Delhi but making a clean sweep in UP clearly shows people's mood in voting for respective parties which unfortunately has been attributed to EVM's by sore losers. Mayawati BSP who has put blame on EVM's has been constantly losing her base in UP was banking mostly on Muslim vote. However, Muslim vote this time got divided between SP and BJP with latter surprisingly getting the minority community votes on its development plank. Kejriwal AAP was quite sure to win in Punjab but it projected no leader and also shook hands with hardliners lately turned people against this party. In fact, democracy was the winner in all elections but some opposition parties who received shock defeat at the hands of BJP and expecting same results in 2019 General Elections have already raised their hands blaming EVM's in advance..

Gunjan Mar 22, 2017 07:09am

@Surendra Sukhtankar - that one is simple. The end justifies the means for communists like Mr.Naqvi

ALM Mar 23, 2017 11:47am

What a useful column! Congrats Janaab Naqvi.

subramak Mar 23, 2017 09:55pm

EVMS in India are kind of pretty low tech. It can be hacked etc, but for that physical security needs to be breached. That has not happened since 1990s in Indian elections.

BJP was wrong in criticising EVMs in 2009 and AAP, BSP are wrong now.

Congress won in 2009 because MMS was trusted to lead the economy when there was an economic crisis.