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Making villains out of voting machines

The Congress asking for scrapping of EVMs is more significant as the party played a leading role in the introduction of such machines for the first time.

There has been no dearth of controversies surrounding electronic voting machines (EVMs). And these mostly relate to their potential abuse. Now, another one is building up as social media posts going viral caution voters that the machines would be clicking their photographs as they cast their votes.

The latest one has an additional layer of mischief by suggesting that those who have accepted money in return for promise to vote for a particular candidate would later be confronted with their pictures and taken to task for ‘breach of trust’.

While there may be some ground for suspecting tampering with the machines, a charge that has been discounted by the Election Commission from time to time, the photo rumour is, indeed, outlandish. The very basis of ballots in Indian democracy is its secrecy and there can be nothing more preposterous than to suggest that the Election Commission is, itself, undermining the most vital element of electoral politics.

The commission has already clarified that this may be the handiwork of rumour-mongers and asked people not to give credence to such fake news. There is no doubt that the clamour for a return to paper ballots has been becoming louder as even such mainstream parties as the Congress voice apprehensions about the EVM’s potential for abuse, particularly by the ruling party.

At one point of time, the fight against EVMs was nearly a monopoly of Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, whose live hacking challenges to expose the vulnerabilities of the voting machines, however, have, so far, remained a damp squib. The biggest defence of the voting machines in the case of AAP was, of course, that they facilitated the Kejriwal party to come to power in Delhi when things were under the BJP’s control.

The Congress had, at its plenary session earlier this year, passed a resolution asking the Election Commission to go back to the system of paper ballots in view of the doubts about the misuse of the voting machines to “manipulate the outcome contrary to popular verdict”.

The Congress asking for scrapping of EVMs is more significant as the party played a leading role in the introduction of such machines for the first time. But that possibility of a return to the old system looks very remote as the commission has introduced several improvements, including paper trails, to record voting, without compromising on the secrecy aspect.

The commission has placed orders for over 16 lakh new machines with paper ballot trails, known as VVPATs, with public sector manufacturers for deployment in the 2019 General Elections. And this makes it clear that it is persisting with the voting machines even as elements opposed to them continue to raise doubts and create confusion by floating such rumours as “photo capture”.

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