The large scale failure of several VVPAT EVMs during recent byelections has once again put the blame squarely on the Election Commission of India. Polling in the fiercely contested Lok Sabha byelections in Kairana in Uttar Pradesh where Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party had joined hands in the wake of success tasted by the duo earlier was married by reports of malfunctioning of VVPATs. Similarly, polling in Bhandra-Gondiya and Palghar in Maharashtra and Nagaland and other Assembly constituencies witnessed unruly scenes because of technical glitches in the EVMs in many booths. The saving grace for ECI is that byelections were held for just four Lok Sabha and nine Assembly seats and it was not a general election. Large-scale malfunctioning of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail has put a question mark over the functioning of ECI as general election is less than an year away.
The ECI was expected to be battle-ready and provide foolproof mechanism in view of allegations that some EVMs used for voting in recently held Karnataka Assembly election were brought from Gujarat and were rigged. The VVPATs facilitate voters to verify if their vote has indeed gone to the intended candidate by leaving a paper trail of the vote cast. It is an adjunct machine connected to the ballot and control units of the EVM and slips from a randomly selected polling booth from each constituency can be matched during counting to check the veracity and credibility of the voting. The purpose is to bring in transparency. The VVPAT EVMs failure may be lack of training given to the field staff or due to rising temperature but the incident is enough to generate enough heat among political parties as ECI plans to deploy 16 lakh VVPAT EVMs during the 2019 general election. The ECI has dismissed reports suggesting that claims of large-scale malfunctioning of VVPATs were “exaggerated” but admission by Chief Election Commissioner of Uttar Pradesh that complaints were received from 384 polling stations in Kairana alone, points to glitches in several machines. Little doubt that the opposition demanded re-election and returning to the old system of ballot papers. The VVPAT replacement rate, due to glitches in the machines that were deployed, was as high as 20.82 per cent in Kairana, 19.22 per cent in Bhandara-Gondia and 13.16 per cent in Palghar. There is an urgent need for ECI to fix glitches in the functioning of VVPAT EVMs ahead of 2019 general election so that its integrity remains intact. The Election Commission of India must remember the moral in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that “Caesar’s wife must always be above suspicion”!