|Thursday, 18 November 2004|
India's Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) -
How they work
by Rohan L. Jayetilleke
It is just amazing one to watch as to how in a country as large as India, covering 4% of the land mass and 16% of the world's population and relief features like mountains, deserts, remote islands, plains, coastal areas and thick forests, elections are held simultaneously held as per the schedule fixed by the Elections Commission of India in Delhi. The process is followed on a time scale, across the country.
The poll schedule for the General Elections to the Lok Sabha (Parliament) is decided by the Elections Commission of India conscious of variables like the harvesting season, the festival season, examination schedules of schools, colleges and universities, the weather conditions and the prevailing peace situation, as these components when examined minutely ensure a maximum turnout of voters during polls.
As the preamble of the Constitution of India says, 'India is a Sovereign, socialist Secular Democratic Republic'. Thus democracy forms the bedrock of the basic structure of the Constitution of India, as very clearly enunciated in the preamble, 'given unto ourselves,by we, the people of India'.
Thus unlike in Sri Lanka, the 1948 Constitution was given to us by Sir Ivor Jennings, the Britisher and then the present 1978 Constitution by J. R. Jayewardene and not by the people and only Constitution that was given by the people was the 1972 Constitution of Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and the Constituent Assembly.
The founding fathers of the Indian Constitutions, the Indians themselves, taking solemn care to entrust the conduct of elections to the highest elective offices of the President and Vice-President, both Houses of Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) and the legislatures of every State in Indian Union to an independent constitutional authority, the Elections Commission of India.
The Constitution devotes a special chapter on the rights and duties of the independent Elections Commission and as to the conduct of elections.
The Elections Commission thus is a permanent Constitutional body consisting of the Chief Elections Commissioner and such number of other Elections Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix.
When any other Elections Commissioner is so appointed, the Chief Elections Commissioner shall act as the Chairman of the Elections Commission. The Chief Elections Commissioner and Elections Commissioners are appointed by the President.
Though this is a constitutional right developing on the President, as he acts on the aid and advice of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers, the appointees are thus selectees of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers.
This system has worked excellently since the introduction of the Constitution in 1947, as in India no political party tries to undermine another political party in power or try to disrupt any constituents of an alliance Government, in order to roll back into power, when once they are rejected by the voters of the country.
The Indian Constitution does not provide any mandatory qualifications, academic or otherwise, for appointment to these offices.
However, conventionally, only senior civil servants, serving or retired, of the rank of the Cabinet Secretary or Secretary to Government of India or of an equivalent rank have been appointed as the Chief Elections Commissioner and Elections Commissioner so far until 1991, Parliament has not made any law prescribing the conditions and tenure of office of the Chief Elections Commissioner and other Elections Commissioners through the Conditions of Service Act of 1991.
These matters were determined by the President by rules and orders made from time to time. This Act was amended in 1993, whereby the Chief Elections Commissioner and other Elections Commissioners have been given a term of six years or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier and they have been placed on par with the judges of the Supreme Court of India in respect of their salaries and allowances.
The Chief Elections Commissioner and the other Commissioners shall have equal powers in arriving at decisions and in case of an absence of consensus or unanimity, the matter will be decided upon by the opinion of the majority.
The elections are based on the first past the post and this system remains the core of the election system. In India like in some democracies voting is not a duty but a right for the voters to audit the performances of those in power or those seeking power.
The Elections Commission headquarters are at New Delhi in a six-storeyed massive building employing around 300 officials and staff at the levels of Deputy Elections Commissioner Directors, Principal secretaries, Secretaries and other ancillary staff.
Since India gained independence in 1947, there have been 14 general elections and over 350 State elections. The Elections Commission is tasked with the conduct of elections in 543 constituencies at the Federal level for the House of the People (Lokh Sabha) and 4061 of Legislative Assemblies at the State Legislature level. In the 1999 general election, there were 619.5 million registered voters, of whom 295.7 million were women.
In this particular election, the largest registration of voters was in the Outer Delhi constituency, with 3.1 million electors and the smallest number was 37,000 voters in Lakshadweepa. These figures are staggering and reflect the tremendous responsibility cast on the Elections Commission of India.
In the 1999 general elections, the total number of polling station was 774,651 with an average of five officers for each polling stations on the day of the poll. Each polling station has a average of 1,000-1,200 voters.
In the 1996 general election, there was an instance of 480 candidates for a single constituency of Nalgonda in Andhra Pradesh.
There have been instances, where the ballot paper had been as large as newspapers and sometimes printed in booklet form. In this particular election, for the printing of the ballot papers alone 8,000 metric tons of paper was used.
In the early stages of the election system due to the rate of literacy being very low, separate boxes of colours given to each candidate to enable voters to cast their votes. Later with the improvement of the standard of literacy the symbol system was introduced which remains as an inviolate feature till eternity.
With the passage of time, political parties have come to be identified with their symbols like the Congress Party the hand symbol.
The Elections Commission has decided that no birds or animals would be specified as election symbols, in order to avert cruelty to animals and birds. Only two animals, the lion and the elephant are permissiable as election symbols as it would be dangerous to be cruel to these two animals.
Electronic voting machines
The voters are issued with Electors' Photo Identity Cards (EPICS) and compulsory identification of electors by means of EPIC or specified documents.
Advanced technology is utilized in order to avert the usage of tons of paper for ballot papers and other election documents. This technologically advanced system of voting is euphemistically named machine called the 'Electronic Voting Machine'. It is an interface, a facilitator between the voter and the voting process.
The Electronic Voting Machine consists of two units, the Control Unit and the Ballot Unit, interconnected by a cable of about five metres in length. The Ballot Unit is placed in a screened compartment, to ensure secreacy, where the voter records his vote and the Control Unit is kept with an elections officials a few metres away.
The Ballot Unit on its screen displays the ballot paper very similar to the conventional ballot paper supplied to a registered elector, whose identity has been established electronically from the electors' rolls. On the screen are the names of the contestants and their symbols in the alphabetical order.
The screen could accommodate upto 64 names in one constituency. There is a button at the end against each name in a downward row.
The voter, having entered the screened apartment having been legalized as a rightful voter, presses the button against whom be or she desires to vote, either reading the name or identifying the symbol to which the vote is to be cast. When the button is pressed with the index finger or any other finger, the machine squeaks like a dog. Then the vote is cast.
Both these units run on a single alkaline battery. The machine can record 3,840 votes in one polling station on and this number is sufficient as each polling station is usually assigned to 1,200 voters. At the time of counting only the Control Unit needs to be operated.
The data recorded in the voting machine is retained in its memory indefinitely until it is cleared for use at a subsequent election.
This Electronic Voting Machines' system was first considered by the Elections Commission of India in 1977 and a prototype of such a machine was demonstrated to political parties on the 6th August 1980.
The greatest achievement of this process is that the number of invalid votes has been brought down to zero.
This EVMs innovation was first introduced in the State of Kerala, where the standard of literacy is very high, during the 1982 Legislative Assembly elections of this State.
After a successful pilot testing, lengthy legal scrutiny of the reliability of the technological aspects, they were introduced gradually in the elections in India on a phased system.
Having gone trough the legal and technological tests and clearence being granted were for the first time used in the Legislative assembly elections of the Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi States' elections. Later in 1999 the EVMs were used in the entire State elections of Goa.
In the 1999 general elections, nearly 60 million voters voted on the EVMs. With these proven track records of reliability, high secreacy and smooth and fast counting, saving of time and paper material and bringing down invalid votes to zero, the EVMs were used in the 2004 general elections, where 650 million voters voted on the EVMs.
During the 2004 May general elections, delegations from countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, South Africa, Thailand and Uganda visited India during this general elections to see the actual working of these Electronic Voting Machines, in order to introduce them to their elections systems as well.
The signs are that Indian EVMs will be another foreign exchange earner for India in the very near future. There was no dele action from Sri Lanka to watch the workings of the EVMs.
(The writer is a member of the Bharathiya Kala Kendra and this feature is based on his observations in India during 2004 General Elections).
Produced by Lake House