Discard EVMs or at least order 100% VVPAT verification for the coming 2024 general elections


To
Shri Rajiv Kumar
Chief Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)

Shri A C Pandey
Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)

Shri Arun Goel
Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)

Dear S/Shri Rajiv Kumar/ Pandey/ Goel,

I write this in continuation of my earlier letter of April 19, 2023 and keeping in view the fact that the Commission has obstinately insisted on using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) of questionable technology without the necessary totalisers, which does not permit mixing of votes from different booths before counting, violating booth-wise secrecy requirement mandatory under the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Apart from complaints from several quarters about malfunctioning and hacking of EVMs, the Commission should keep the following circumstances in view and, once and for all, decide on discarding the use of EVMs altogether for the 2024 general elections, or at least order 100% verification w.r.t paper ballot count.

  1. The EVM technology per se is of questionable integrity, liable to hacking, as accepted in several countries similarly placed. The Commission’s continued insistence that the EVMs being used by it are 100% safe has no verifiable proof. Voters can see the paper audit trail (VVPAT) to satisfy themselves that the votes cast have gone to the right candidates, whereas EVMs by themselves do not provide such visible proof. Keeping this in view, the Commission should either discard EVMs altogether or at least agree to 100% verification with respect to the VVPAT count
  2. Without totalisers, EVMs do not permit the mixing of votes across different booths to ensure booth-wise secrecy. This is thus a basic legal lacuna with the use of EVMs, a factor that the Commission should take note of and act immediately.
  3. Prof Rajat Moona, a member of the Technical Advisory Committee for the EVMs expressed apprehension (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/chip-shortage-poses-major-challenge-to-eci-before-2024-polls-iitgn-director-8192225/) on the emerging shortage of chips for the new generation M3 EVMs. The Commission may then have to look to multiple sources in Europe and some Asian countries to meet the likely demand of more than 13-15 lakh EVMs embedded with the new generation chips for the 2024 general elections. That will make it difficult for the Commission to avoid questionable sources that could impact the integrity of the electoral process in many ways. In the US and other countries, there have been external interventions in domestic elections and the Commission cannot afford to be lax in that respect. If the Commission cannot assure the integrity of the source of the chips required for the M3 EVMs, it should refrain from going ahead with the use of those machines, in which case, it will be forced to fall back on the older generation EVMs. Even in the case of the latter, one is not certain about the likelihood of external agencies being involved in the process of burning the software into the chip. In any case, microcontrollers are imported from foreign sources and one is never sure about their credentials from the point of view of interference from external agencies. In all these matters, unless the political parties and the voters are fully taken into confidence, the process will get vitiated on the ground that it is not transparent.
  4. Earlier, I pointed out how the ruling party’s nominees have brazenly been appointed to the Board of Directors of Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), the primary CPSE supplying EVMs to the Commission. The Commission has ignored the objection raised by me and allowed those very same nominees to continue to be on BEL’s Board to date. Does it not cast a shadow on the whole question about the integrity of BEL-supplied EVMs?

I would earnestly appeal to the Commission to question itself objectively whether it has genuinely responded to complaints such as those above, tried to find satisfactory answers and restored public trust in the ability of the Commission to conduct elections in a free and fair manner. 

Should not the Commission elevate its status to that of a truly apolitical institution as envisaged in Article 324 of the Constitution?

Satisfactory action on the above will determine the extent of the public credibility that the Commission can elicit.

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma

E A S SarmaFormer Secretary to the Government of India

Visakhapatnam

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