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VVPAT verification

VVPAT verification

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Why in news?

  • The Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to increase voter verified paper audit trial (VVPAT) verification to five random Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in each Assembly segment/constituency.

SC Order

  • Earlier, under the ECI guideline 16.6, only the VVPAT slips from one EVM in every Assembly segment/ constituency was subjected to physical verification.
  • SC has ordered an increase of the existing Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) verification rate from one to five random Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) per Assembly constituency or segment.
    • In case of general elections, VVPAT slips of five EVMs in each Assembly segment of a Parliamentary Constituency would be subject to physical counting.
    • In State Assembly elections, the VVPAT verification would extend to five random EVMs in each Assembly constituency.
  • The Supreme Court order would be implemented in the Lok Sabha polls, scheduled to commence from April 11, 2019.
  • The Supreme Court’s decision is a far shot from what 21 Opposition parties wantedVVPAT verification in 50% or 125 polling booths in each constituency.
    • The increase to five EVMs from one would only increase the VVPAT verification percentage from 0.44% to less than 2%.

Why not 50%?

  • The court said VVPAT verification of five EVMs, rather than in 125 polling booths, is more “viable at this point of time.”
    • It would not be a drain on the ECI’s infrastructural resources and manpower as the Opposition’s idea would have been.
    • Neither would counting VVPAT slips of five EVMs take any substantial amount of time.
  • A 50% VVPAT verification would require a huge increase in extra personnel in each of the 4,125 polling stations.
    • A verification team in a polling booth is composed of –
      • three counting officials,
      • a returning officer and
      • a general observer.
    • Increased VVPAT slip counting would require extensive training and capacity building of election officials in the field.
      • VVPAT slip counting takes place in specially erected VVPAT counting booths under the close monitoring of the returning officer and direct oversight of the observer.
    • The ECI had said that a 50% random physical verification of VVPATs would delay Lok Sabha poll results of 2019 by six whole days.

Significance

  • The higher figure, which will increase the overall number of EVMs to be counted to close to 20,000 machines, should reasonably address the very remote possibility of ‘insider fraud’.
  • It will also verify a higher sample of EVMs in the smaller States and bring the sample within reasonable confidence levels to discount chances of EVM-tampering.
  • In any case, the VVPAT slip verification is more of a reassurance to voters that the EVM is indeed foolproof, over and above the technical and administrative safeguards that are already in place to prevent any tampering.

Real problem

  • For the ECI, the key technical issue with EVMs and VVPATs is not really in regard to tampering but to machine glitches.
    • While the parliamentary by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and the Assembly election in Karnataka last year had registered significant machine replacement rates (20% and 4%, respectively), these were brought down to less than 2% in later elections held in the winter months.
  • The ECI made technical fixes to the VVPAT to make them more resilient during use across the country, and it should be well-prepared to handle any glitches during the seven-phase Lok Sabha election.
  • The availability of replacement machines and the ability to deploy them quickly in case of a failure of VVPATs are essential to avoid disruptions.

Additional info

What are VVPAT machines?

  • The Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is a method that provides feedback to voters.
  • It is an independent verification printer machine and is attached to electronic voting machines.
  • It allows voters to verify if their vote has gone to the intended candidate.

How do VVPAT machines work?

  • When a voter presses a button in the EVM, a paper slip is printed through the VVPAT.
  • The slip contains the poll symbol and name of the candidate. It allows the voter to verify his/her choice.
  • After being visible to the voter from a glass case in the VVPAT for seven seconds, the ballot slip will be cut and dropped into the drop box in the VVPAT machine and a beep will be heard.
  • VVPAT machines can be accessed by polling officers only.

Mains question

EVMs with VVPAT system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. Critically analyze the steps that have been taken to ensure fullest transparency and restore the confidence of the voters in the system.