My Vote My Right: Understanding the EVM and VVPAT Machines

In this episode, women at a jagalikatte can be heard discussing the Indian voting process. They share about the security available at polling booths to the number of people sitting in the voting room and about their work. Vijaya describes the two machines – EVM and VVPAT – used for voting. All the names and symbols of political parties are printed on these machines. Beside each name, there will be a button. To vote for a particular person, one must press the button beside the preferred name. After one click on the button, a red light will come on and within 7 seconds, a small slip with details for whom one has voted will come out and drop in the box. This confirms that the person has voted properly. Also, Vijaya mentioned that one should not click on the button titled NOTA on the machine – this will indicate that you are not interested in the election. “Also, one should not vote twice, because then the vote will be canceled.”

Sanjeev Kumar
Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka

“A Voter Guide specifying all the procedure involved in the voting process is available. EVM is short for ‘Electronic Voting Machine’, and they have been used for more than 20 years now. It has two parts – a ballet unit which will mention the candidates’ names, serial number and the symbol of the candidates’ parties. A button is built in beside the names to help a person vote and right below will be ‘NOTA’, which symbolises, ‘none of the above’ candidates. Each unit will have 16 names of candidates and with this, one control unit will be there to record votes. For the past two years, we have been able to confirm by seeing exactly for whom we have voted through the the VVPAT Machine, i.e., the ‘Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail’ Machine. This works as a printer, and when we cast our vote, details of the candidate prints and falls into the VVPAT machine. This happens within seven seconds of voting and the voter can see the info they voted for. This VVPAT cannot be opened easily and only during counting do the officers open it.”

Dr. Priyanca Mathur
Associate Professor, Jain University
Center for Research and Social Sciences and Education, and Coordinator for the Center for Public Policy in Government

“Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are game-changers in elections, with an entire nation hooked on, and awaiting results from them. Since 1999, EVMs began to be deployed in Indian elections, gradually replacing paper ballots in local, state and parliamentary polls. Since 2000, they have been used in three Lok Sabha elections and 113 Assembly polls.

For the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Bharat Electronics Ltd. and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. have delivered EVMs to 10.6 lakh polling stations across India. However, many political parties and technical experts continue to question the reliability of EVMs.
Recently, the Chief Election Commissioner, Sunil Arora fumed that EVMs were being “tossed like a football” in the political discourse. Arora claimed that the Election Commission (EC) was pulling all stops to reduce instances of malfunctioning and that these instances were not of deliberate “tampering”.

Now, what is the EVM?
The EVM is a friendly-looking machine that offers you a button to opt for a candidate. It has two units – a control unit with the polling officer, and a balloting unit wherein the voter casts his vote. The polling officer activates the control unit so that you can cast your vote in the balloting unit. As soon as you hit the button for the candidate you wish to pick, you automatically lock the machine.

After this, it can be opened only when the officer reactivates it for the next voter to cast his vote. Hence, the EVM is a ‘single’ lover: one person one vote, it says. It is a standalone machine that cannot send wireless communication through radio frequency transmission or reception.

For Lok Sabha elections, nearly 22 lakh balloting units and 16 lakh control units have been delivered.

What is the VVPAT?
EC had introduced the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) following a Supreme Court order of 2013. The order had come about in a petition filed by Subramanian Swamy, currently a BJP MP, after the UPA had won the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Swamy had first approached the Delhi High Court opposing the use of EVMs. The Delhi HC agreed that EVMs were not tamper-proof, but didn’t issue any direction to the EC. Swamy then approached the Supreme Court, which ordered that the EC should use VVPATs in a phased manner, and should complete installation by 2019.

The VVPAT, which is connected to the balloting unit of the EVM, generates a printed slip as soon as you cast your vote. The slip briefly displays the party symbol, the candidate and serial number that you chose, allowing you to immediately cross-check who your vote went to.

However, the display would be visible only for seven seconds, and you cannot keep the paper record. The printed slip automatically gets cut, and vanishes into a sealed drop box.

The balloting unit and VVPAT would both be located in the compartment where you go in to vote, and they would be linked to the control unit by a five-meter cable.

In case of an error with either the control or balloting units, the entire system including the VVPAT has to be replaced. But in case of an error with a VVPAT, it can merely be replaced with a reserve. In India, VVPAT was used for the first time in Noksen constituency, Nagaland, in September 2013. It was later used in the entire Goa Assembly elections in 2017. About 17 lakh VVPATs have been delivered for the Lok Sabha elections.

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