Electronic Voting Machine is an ' Information'- The Central Information Commission (CIC) - Seeker's Thoughts

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Electronic Voting Machine is an ' Information'- The Central Information Commission (CIC)

Electronic Voting Machines - Remain Controversial 

Election commission finds it hard to maintain credibility, as controversy related to Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) does not seem to die. Political parties after elections in recent years have accused at some places that tempering with EVM was done. The motive can be reasonable or political, but it certainly takes away the faith of democratic values. 
Due to these controversies, Election commission even kept an open challenge to temper with EVMs but none came in front to temper with it. 

The struggle did not end there, in an attempt to amplify their pitch against the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), the Opposition parties even sent a joint memorandum to the Election Commission demanding that the machines should be replaced at the earliest with ballot paper in months of 2018.

The parties, in a draft memorandum circulated among the signatories, demanded that a physical counter check of the paper trail and matching it with electronic vote should happen mandatorily in at least 50% of all EVMs.

It is an implement able reform without any additional cost, they argued.

They also demanded that in case the difference of votes cast in favour of the winning candidates and the one coming second is less than five %, then there should be mandatory counting of the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in every polling station of that constituency.

In the beginning of 2019, the applicant Rajaak Khan Haider had sought an EVM from the Election Commission. The Election Commission had rejected the application saying the EVMs held by it do not come under the definition of “information”.

The result came in favour of the applicant as, The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that the EVM machine is information under the Right to Information Act and directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to respond to appellant who had sought an EVM.

What is Electronic Voting Machine?

EVMs or electronic voting machines provides the voter with a button for each choice which is connected by a cable to an electronic ballot box. 

An EVM consists of two units–control unit and balloting unit–and these two are connected by a five-meter cable. When a voter presses a button against the candidate, he/she wishes to vote for, the machine locks itself. This EVM can be opened only with a new ballot number. This way, EVMs ensure that one person gets to vote only once.

What was the case?

The applicant had approached Central Information Commission with the argument that as per Section 2(f) and 2(i) of the RTI Act, the definition of ‘information’ and ‘record’ also includes ‘any model or any sample’ held by a public authority, calling the rejection as wrong.

The Information Commission even though upheld these arguments noted the contention of Election Commission of India that the software installed on these machines is an intellectual property of a third party, the disclosure of which would harm its competitive position.

Section 8(1)(d) exempts information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information.
The CIC did not give any view whether it was upholding or rejecting the EC’s position on commercial confidence leaving a grey area

Highlights of the Ruling

EVM can be demanded by an applicant from the Election Commission of India on payment of Rs 10. The Election Commission has to respond to an RTI application seeking the EVM either by providing it or refusing it under exemption clauses in the Act. 

The verdict of the Election Commission of India can be contested before the CIC, the highest adjudicating authority in RTI matters.

When were EVMs first used in elections?

The use of EVM started back in 1982 Kerala Assembly elections. Prior to this only ballot papers and ballot boxes were allowed.

Can EVM be tampered in India?

The only way an EVM can be tampered with is by physically opening it up and replacing the chipset inside it. The chipset used is non-reprogrammable and data is ‘burnt’ into the device. So, today it is possible to replace the chip if we have access to EVMs.

Indian EVM’s do not have electricity, or internet connectivity. The only thing which it has a chip, which is produced in a government own PSU. EVM can be tempered only when it is opened and replace the chip.

CHIPS can be replaced BUT ONLY IN LAB. However, the truth is that EVM chip can’t be replaced just like that as per election commissioner’s statement.

On the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) front too, there are reports of malfunctioning. Also, as per the rules, paper ballots and VVPAT machines are not counted until the Returning Officer asks for it.

Why is India using EVMs?

Using EVMs means doing away with paper ballots, and in turn, saving millions of trees from being cut.

It makes the entire process of voting simpler-a click on the button and your vote is registered. EVMs, in the long-run, have turned out to be cost-effective as well. These machines don’t require electricity and run on batteries. At the same time, the EVMs are lighter and portable compared to the huge ballot boxes.

And most importantly, EVMs have made the vote-counting process much faster, delivering results in hours as against manual counting of votes which could take days.

Why to support EVM?

EVMs led to a significant decline in electoral fraud, particularly in politically sensitive States as rigging elections became extremely expensive.

Research has shown a link between luminosity and growth rate, suggesting that EVMs contribute to development.

 EVMs empowered those from the weaker sections of society who were victims of political or electoral violence. In particular, women, lower castes, and those less educated were more likely to participate in the electoral process when EVMs were used.

EVMs made the electoral process more competitive.

 There has been a significant decline in the incidence of re-election, and winning margins have reduced dramatically. Less time-consuming process happens.

Arguments that are in favour of Paper Ballot

Reliability of EVM can lead to the trust issue where people want the previous system to be applicable. 

Disadvantage and Issues related 

There are problems of paper ballot. Transporting them and guarding them is a problem.  Ballot boxes can be captured. Ghost voters who did not exist voted for the parties. Credibility as election frauds and the process is time consuming. 

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