Bring Back the Ballot Papers through 384+ Strategy

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Our country’s freedom lies in its democratic process. Irrespective of whether the rulers are domestic or foreign, if our democratic process is undermined, the freedom of the country and the liberty of the people are in peril. There is nothing more fundamental and essential to the sustenance of democracy as the conduct of free and fair elections. Irrespective of whether Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are hackable or not, as we explain below, the Election Commission’s rulebook itself conclusively shows that EVM-based election in our country is neither free nor transparent. As we are painfully aware that the free and fair election process of our country is under serious threat, we make an earnest plea to all the political parties of this country who are critical of the EVM-based elections to adopt the 384+ strategy to bring back the ballot papers. We urge you to set it right before the election process turns into a complete farce.

What is the 384+ strategy?

As of now, the only possible way to bring back the ballot papers is to field more than 384 candidates in a constituency. An EVM can cater to only 16 names. A total of 24 EVMs can be consecutively linked as a network. If there are more than 384 candidates in an election – i.e., more number of candidates than an EVM can accommodate – then the only way before the Election Commission of India (ECI) is to revert to ballot papers. A similar strategy had been successfully implemented by Telangana Rashtra Samiti in the 2010 by-elections and subsequently, the ECI had no option but to switch over to ballot papers in the by-election.

Two clinching evidence that EVM-based election is neither free nor fair

1. Section 49 MA, the Conduct of Election (Amendment) Rules, 2013

The 2013 Supreme Court judgment had introduced the VVPAT (Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail) system, which empowered the voter to verify the vote cast in EVMs. Voters are given the right to complain if the name printed on the VVPAT slip and the name actually chosen by the voter while casting the vote are at variance. In the eventuality of a complaint, the ECI warns the voter of jail term of up to six months in case the complaint is found to be false. The method to test the veracity of our VVPAT complaint is the most outrageous and scandalous part of the ECI’s rulebook. Once a complaint is lodged, as per the section 49 MA, an ECI official would ask the voter to cast a test vote (a second vote in the same machine in the presence of all the representatives). If VVPAT, at the time of this test vote, does not produce an incorrect print, then the ECI official would conclude that the complaint is false. Subsequently, an FIR will be filed against the voter under the section IPC 177. It is commonsensical that a malfunctioned machine would not give the false output consistently, let alone a hacked machine. The EVM-VVPAT rule virtually intimidates the voters not to file VVPAT complaint. And a truthful complainant would almost certainly be jailed and the voting process would go unhindered in the same EVM-VVPAT unit, which was found as faulty by the voter. The ECI’s voter intimidation rule, the section 49 MA is the first clinching evidence to show that the EVM-VVPAT election is a case of an antithesis to free and fair election.

2. The ECI notification (No. 51/8/VVPAT-INST/2018-EMS, Dated: 13/02/2017, Sub: Mandatory verification of VVPAT paper slips)

The ECI notification instructs the chief electoral officials to count the VVPAT slips of only one polling station per assembly segment. That is, in the coming general elections, the ECI would count the VVPAT slips of only 4,120 polling booths out of 10.6 lakh polling booths, i.e., only 0.38% of the polling booths. EVM-based (without verified paper slip) election violates the principle of transparency and the voters’ right to verify whether their vote is registered correctly and thus destroys the people’s confidence in the election process. This is not our statement, but that of the 2013 Supreme Court judgment, which introduced the VVPAT system. In effect, vote of an Indian citizen is VVPAT, not the unverifiable impressions on the digital memory of a machine. Though the ECI has set up VVPAT machines in the polling stations, in 99.6% of the polling stations, not even a single VVPAT would be counted. They are in effect, a showpiece of no value in determining the election outcome. Why did the ECI choose an awfully inadequate sample of less than 1% of the VVPATs for counting? Even an election counting based on an adequate sample size cannot be legitimate unless there is a non-arbitrary reason to choose the sampling method in the first place than counting every vote of the citizens. The sampling method is often employed when it is almost impossible to collect the entire data, which is not the case with our VVPATs. The ECI’s reason for choosing this sampling method (which, in percentage, is slightly higher than the TV exit polls) is that the counting of all VVPATs would take up a few more hours! As citizens of a democracy, it creates horror in our minds when we realize that the ECI finds the counting of all voting slips inconvenient, and thus decides not to count 99.6% of the votes that are verified by the voters. There are many countries in this world which find democratic process as time-consuming and inconvenient, but we would definitely not think of India as one of them. The ECI’s notification to not count the VVPAT slips of 99.6% of the polling booths is the second clinching evidence that conclusively leads to the truth that EVM-VVPAT rules are corrupt to great levels, and that it is impossible to conduct free and fair elections unless the ballot papers are brought back.

There are also several other rules, notifications, remarks, and actions of the ECI that make us further doubt the credibility and the dignity of the institution which we see as a symbol of pride for the Indian democracy.

Hence, we urge each political party to adopt the 384+ strategy at least in one constituency and to bring back the ballot paper in respective constituencies, as it would be a significant primary step to protect our democracy. We, as citizens, would whole-heartedly support any transparent mechanism to fund such an effort so as to sustain the popular belief in the Indian democratic system. If the political parties adopt the 384+ strategy, it would also be a positive step towards correcting their mistake of having unanimously passed the voter intimidation rule (2013 amendment). If the political parties fail to protect our democracy, we, the people of the country, will take it upon ourselves to build the wall of 384+ to defend the Indian democracy. For us, democracy is not a choice, but a necessary condition to remain a society where every individual is assured a life of dignity and freedom.