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Supreme Court backs EVMs

Context

  • The Supreme Court upheld the electronic voting machine (EVM) system of polling and refused a plea to revive paper ballots.

Supreme Court Judgement

  • The court refused to hand over paper slips from Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) units to electors to look leisurely before inserting them into the ballot boxes.
  • It also declined to direct the cross-verification of 100% EVMs and VVPATs nationwide.
  • Currently, only five percent of EVM-VVPAT counts are randomly verified in any given Assembly constituency.
  • It also directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to “seal and secure” the Symbol Loading Unit (SLU) for 45 days after the declaration of election results.
  • Currently, only the three components of the EVM — the ballot unit, control unit, and VVPAT — are stored for 45 days after the results.
  • The court has allowed candidates to check the one-time programmable software in the BU (Ballot Unit), CU (Control Unit), and VVPAT for tampering, in case of any doubts regarding the result.
  • This verification involves inspecting the burnt memory/ microcontrollers of these three components.

What are Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs)?

  • It is a device that electronically records and counts votes in elections.
  • EVMs were first used in 1982 in the Assembly constituency of Paravur in Kerala in 50 out of 123 booths.
  • EVM has two parts, it consists of a ‘control unit’ and a ‘balloting unit’, connected by a 5-meter cable.
  • The control unit is with the Election Commission-appointed polling officer and it is the brain of the EVM.
  • The balloting unit is in the voting compartment into which the voter enters to cast the vote in secret by pressing the button against the name and symbol of the candidate of her choice.
  • The balloting unit is turned on only after the polling officer presses the ‘Ballot’ button on it.

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)

  • A VVPAT is intended as an independent verification system for voting machines designed to allow voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly.
  • It contains the name of the candidate (for whom the vote has been cast) and the symbol of the party/individual candidate.
  • When a vote is cast, the VVPAT machine, which is attached to the ballot unit (BU) of the EVM, prints out a slip of paper with the voter’s choice indicated on it.
  • Though it remains behind glass, the printed slip is visible for seven seconds so the voter can see that the vote has been recorded correctly, before it falls into a box underneath.
  • The idea of the VVPAT machine first emerged in 2010. However, it was used for the first time in the Noksen Assembly constituency of Nagaland in 2013.
  • The Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 were amended in 2013 to allow for a printer with a drop box to be attached to the EVM.
  • In 2017, 100% of VVPATs began to be used in polls, and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections became the first general election to have 100% of EVMs attached to VVPATs.

What is a Symbol Loading Unit (SLU)?

  • The SLU is used to load the symbols of the candidates onto the VVPAT.
  • Candidate setting happens at any time from five to two days before voting for a seat. After loading the symbols onto the VVPAT, the SLU is of no relevance to the actual voting process.
  • Once the symbol-loading is complete, the SLUs are handed over to the concerned district election officer for safekeeping. They remain in the officer’s custody until the day after voting.

Conclusion

  • Overall, while the VVPAT system in India represents a significant step towards enhancing transparency and accountability in elections, it continues to face criticism and scrutiny regarding its effectiveness, cost, and implementation challenges.
  • However “blind distrust” of an institution or a system breeds unwarranted skepticism and impedes progress.
  • Addressing these concerns requires efforts to improve the reliability, accessibility, and public acceptance on the VVPAT system.