Indian democracy is a miracle. While surrounded by countries a fraction of its size constantly in turmoil, Indian democracy with 1.2 billion people speaking different languages, different religions, however imperfect it may be, have stiched together this wonder called ‘rule by the people’. Over more than 60 years of rule, India has peaceful transition of power and Indians rose up to challenge to any threat of democracy.
When we do an ATM transaction we get a receipt even though we can check our transactions in our bank statements. How much more important it is to have a paper record when voting, particularly there is no transaction record to verify it for voting secrecy reasons? As Dr. David Dill, Stanford Professor who pioneered election reform in US pointed out, using stand alone EVM for voting is like handing your paper ballot to a person behind a screen at the voting booth, expressing whom you desire to vote and leaving the person behind the screen to stamp and put in the ballot box. Voter has no idea how the ballot paper really was stamped or even placed in ballot box!
Today many external elements are playing an active role in India to destroy its democracy or severely limit the ‘choice by people’ to pursue their own agendas. As Dr. Swamy pointed out in The Hindu article on June 17th, 2009 not a single one of the nine safeguards recommended by IEEE has been in place in the usage of EVM’s in India. This is being used by undesirable elements to compromise democracy. But the bigger issue is, no matter how secure a machine is developed, what safeguards put in place, EVM suffers two major drawbacks, Transparency and Verifiability. (There is no such thing as non tamper-able machine and given enough motivation any EVM can be manipulated). That is the key point that esteemed Supreme Court judges in Germany sought answer for. They phrased their judgement that all the steps in the election process, from voter exercising his/her vote to its counting that vote against the candidate selected by that voter need to be completely transparent to a layman. In so saying, they effectively banned EVM’s in Germany. Similar arguments throughout Europe such as Dutch, Netherlands were used to ban EVMs completely after two decades of use at every level. Some countries like UK did not even chose to go EVM path. In US with decentralized electoral system, more than 65% of the country abandoned stand alone EVMs and are increasingly moving toward paper ballot with optical scanner.
The drama that unfolded in several parts of India after 2004 and 2009 elections when ECI used EVMs heavily, is an ominous sign. It is imperative that all of us bring awareness to this issue to other Indians and exercise pressure on Election Commission of India to study the issue with open mind and consider alternative methods such as paper ballot with Optical scanner with mandatory random checking of both counts at small percentage of precincts. This way, paper ballot provides transparency and verifiability and Optical Scanner provides efficiency.
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