The importance of free and fair elections

When Jayalalithaa and Ram Vilas Paswan complain about rigging in the EVMs, we ridicule or pity them, convinced as we are about the strength of EVMs. When Subramanian Swamy writes about the issue, we,however, need to take notice. Here, I am giving the links to the articles which Swamy refers to (+ an interview on the outcome of Iran elections), so that we could take an informed view about the issue.

It may look odd to consider the suspicions about the EVMs along with the lessons from the Iran elections. But the juxtaposition is not completely misplaced. The Indian elections are not free from irregularities – the case of missing names of voters from the voters’ lists across the nation due to various factors, including that of the E.C.’s limitations, is predominant among them. Yet India has been lucky so far in that no losing Opposition leader has seriously challenged the credibility of the results in almost all the general elections.

Relevant links:

1.Newsweek interview with the Vice-President of the Carter Center on Iranian elections.
2.Evgeny Morozov’s article on e-voting machines in Newsweek.
3. Are electronic voting-machines tamper proof? by Subramanian Swamy in The Hindu
4. Trustworthy voting: From Machines to system: Abstract of the article in IEEE.

Update: The Hindu carried some critical letters on Dr.Swamy’s article.

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  • It is certainly true that EVMs are not tamper-proof. That said, neither was the traditional ballot box. We all know what used to happen in Kashmir.

    What seems to have sustained us as a (less than perfect) democracy is the fact that even though there was vote rigging, the methodology was known and the level kept within "acceptable" bounds because of the attentiveness of all parties. That is why, for the most part, the losing candidates accepted their defeat without much murmur. (In Kashmir, where the rigging went beyond acceptable limits especially in 1983, the consequences were disastrous, which we are living with to this day.)

    What changes with regard to EVMs is that to tamper with them requires a certain sophistication. Not all parties – if any – know how they can be tampered with effectively. Now if everyone knows how they can be rigged and parties know how to prevent their rivals from gaining too much of an upper hand via rigging, it will still be okay, I think. But if one or a few parties know this technology and not others, then there will be a big problem. Mr. Swamy suggests that this might have happened in the last election when he observes:

    On the eve of the 2009 elections in India, I raised the issue at a press conference in Chennai, pointing out that a political party just before the elections had recruited those who had been convicted in the U.S. for hacking bank accounts on the Internet and credit cards.

    Given this and the experience of other countries which Mr. Swamy details, it is certainly desirable that we take a good hard look at the EVMs. I am not sure that any method of voting can be made totally tamper-proof. As I observed, the issue is "trust": whether, everyone, while accepting that there might be irregularities, believes that the end result, on the whole, reflects the electorate's actual votes.

  • I fear that the EVM issue is a big propaganda hoax in the making. EVMs are saving India a lot of time and resources. Whatever is mentioned in the article by Mr. Swamy relates to EVMs that are being used in other countries. Those EVMs are much more sophisticated and hence more vulnerable to manipulation. Indian EVMs are like independent ballot boxes with no connectivity amongst themselves or with a central data collection point.
    I agree that creative mechanisms need to be evolved by the EC so that the confidence of the political parties and Indian public remains with the EVMs. But giving up EVMs because other countries have done so doesn't make sense at all. Further it would have been imperative if you would have linked what the SC had to say about the technological aspects of Indian EVMs.