Vote verification eludes Bengal civic polls

AS MAMATA GOVT HAS NOT AMENDED POLL RULES TO INTRODUCE VVPAT IN EVMs

ELUSIVE: File photo of a VVPAT machine.
ELUSIVE: File photo of a VVPAT machine.

By bappaditya paul 

IF YOU ARE A VOTER IN KOLKATA and thinking that you would verify if your vote has actually gone to the candidate in whose favour you pressed the EVM button during Saturday’s civic polls: better be prepared for a letdown!      

The West Bengal State Election Commission (SEC) has failed to introduce the mechanism required for vote verification because the Mamata Banerjee-led state government did not carry out a necessary amendment to the West Bengal Municipalities (Conduct of Elections) Rules, 1995. 

Thus, neither the voters in Kolkata civic polls on Saturday nor the voters in the another 91 civic bodies where the polls are scheduled on 25 April will be able to verify their votes and get a reassurance.  

To enable a voter to verify his/her vote, a new machine, known as the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) needs to be connected to the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). A VVPAT is placed beside the EVM inside a voting compartment. 

On pressing any button on an EVM, a small monitor on the VVPAT displays for about 20 seconds the voter’s serial number and the name of the candidate whom he/she has voted for.

This information then automatically gets printed on a piece of paper resembling an ATM slip and gets stored in a sealed compartment inside the VVPAT.

During counting, the stored slips may be tallied against the votes recorded electronically in an EVM if there is a dispute over the number of votes fetched by different candidates. 

ECI headquarters in New Delhi

The Election Commission of India (ECI) successfully used the VVPAT in eight parliamentary constituencies, including Jadavpur in Bengal, during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and in two constituencies during the Delhi Assembly elections earlier this year.   

But to emulate VVPAT in local body polls in Bengal, it is necessary to amend the WB Municipalities (Conduct of Elections) Rules, which the state government has not done yet. 

“An amendment to the Rules is mandatory as the State Election Commission is an autonomous entity established under a state law and hence, anything new introduced by the ECI cannot be emulated automatically,” explained the state poll panel joint secretary, Mr Sabbyasachi Ghosh.

“Besides, the ECI has so far tried VVPAT in some select constituencies on a pilot basis and it has not been made universal as yet.”

There’s a technical constraints as well: that is, a majority of the 24,000-odd EVMs being used in this civic polls are old versions that do not come with a ready plug-in for VVPAT.

“Only the EVMs manufactured post-2006 have in-built option to connect an external device such as the VVPAT. The Bengal poll panel does not have enough of such EVMs,” said an official.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 18 April 2015.)

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