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Can we trust EVMs? EC officials dismiss reports of faulty machines

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 1 April 2017, 21:06 IST
(AFP photo)

If officials at the Election Commission are to be believed, the story of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail EVMs only voting for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been blown out of proportion.

However, the Opposition has smelt blood.

The Congress claims that the paper trail generated a receipt with the BJP's symbol, even when the Chief Electoral Officer in Madhya Pradesh, Salina Singh, pressed a button for the Samajwadi Party candidate.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader, too, has alleged tampering.

“Del(cant elex),Assam, MP- EVMs voting only BJP. Can't be tech error. There's a pattern. These were chance discoveries. How many more affected?” he tweeted. Kejriwal met the Chief Election Commissioner on the issue.

District collector's version

“The media is misreporting facts,” claims Ilayaraja T, the District Electoral Officer and Collector of the Bhind District where the incident happened on Friday.

“Claims that more than one button on the EVM was calibrated for the lotus symbol is not correct,” he says, adding that only pressing the number four button on the unit gave out a slip, which said that the vote has gone to the BJP.

The machines were calibrated according to the Govindpur seat in Uttar Pradesh in this case, so the vote went in favour of the winning candidate Satyadev Pachauri.

“When she pressed the first button the vote went to the Congress, and other two presses gave out results in favour of the BSP and the RLD,” Ilayaraja told Catch on the phone.

The local administration has sent its report on the incident. The Election Commission of India may come out with a statement later in the evening.

Ilayaraja says that the machine in question was a demo unit, which had not gone through the multiple level checks that the machines have to go through before they are deployed in different polling booths.

According to Ilayaraja, Salina Singh was in Bhind to take stock of the preparations for the forthcoming by-elections to the Ateri Assembly constituency. She met the sector officials, after which she proceeded to take a demo of the machine.

“This particular machine was a demo unit. So it had not even gone through the first level check. It still had data from the previous election, that is UP in this case,” he says, adding that the machines in the state are going through second randomisation, a process which randomly selects the deployment of machines in polling booths.

That the unit still had the elephant, the symbol of the BSP and the hand-pump, the symbol of the RLD, calibrated lends credence to the assertion that the data of the last election still existed on the machine. No BSP candidate for example, Ilayaraja says, is in the fray in Ateri for the coming elections.

“We are yet to calibrate the EVMs as per the local requirements. The candidate setting is yet to be done,” Ilayaraja says.

Eyewitness account

A local Bhind journalist who was present during the demonstration by Singh explained the sequence of events. He says that in the local elections, ballot number one has been allotted to the BJP. And since Singh first pressed the fourth button, the subsequent receipt in favour of the BJP led to questions from the journalists.

“A press on the first button should have generated a receipt in favour of the BJP,” he says, adding that subsequent presses indeed led to receipts showing other parties, the Congress, the RLD and the BSP.

What led to a furore is however, Singh's comments that reporting of the incident could lead to detention. “But she said it in jest, without any malice,” Ilayaraja says, claiming how a joke has been blown out of proportion.

EC takes steps

Meanwhile, the attack on the EVMs post the UP elections results, has led to several steps being taken by the ECI to win the perception game on the issue of credibility of the EVMs.

Top sources in the ECI detailed, how beside the lengthy release the ECI came up after Mayawati’s raised the issue of tampering of EVMs, former Election Commissioners are regularly writing articles in the English language media and other vernacular dailies to clear the misconceptions about the machines.

The ECI may also come out with the technical report of the committee consisting of several experts from the Indian Institutes of Technology which looked into the two-three earlier cases like the one in Assam last year where one EVM was allegedly found to be just voting for the BJP alone. According to sources, it happened because of a technical glitch. And that it was detected during the mock polls itself. “Moreover, it involved M1 machines, which have since been phased out and are currently in process of being destroyed,” a source says.

The source also explained how the ECI is helpless when it comes to investigating any claims of malfunctioning in the EVMs in the past elections. Once the results are announced the role of the ECI ends. "We are ready to clear doubts but for that the court has to order an investigation," the source says.

First published: 1 April 2017, 21:06 IST