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All About VVPAT – a New System to Make Voting Machines More Accountable

The Electronic Voting Machines all set to get a facelift with the introduction of VVPAT

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India adopted the Electronic Voting Machine 13 years ago, in 2004. Time and again, after elections, there are political parties that cry foul about the ability to tamper and manipulate these machines. The Indian EVMs are Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) machines, in which votes are recorded directly into the machines memory and leave no paper trail.

In such machines the trust lies solely on the internal memory and software being used.

Electronic Voting Machine
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

All these years, the Indian authorities have constantly maintained that EVM’s were tamper proof. In 2009, Hari Shankar, then managing director of NetIndia, a technology firm based in Hyderabad, alleged that EVMs were not infallible. Hari Shankar and two other collaborators (Halderman and Gonggrijp) studied and published a report, which came as a setback for the Election Commission, which believed in the infallibility of the EVM’s. Hari Shankar, one of the key persons who alleged that the EVMs were not free of tampering, was arrested and later released on bail.

It has taken those like Hari Shankar and other voices to many years to be heard. The Union cabinet on May 10, 2017, cleared a proposal, which will increase transparency in the voting process. The introduction of the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) is one step towards that.

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is a method of providing instant feedback to the voters. An independent verification printer machine, it is attached to the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). It is a method by which the voter can verify if their vote has been registered to the intended candidate.

How does the VVPAT machine function?

Once the voter presses a button in the EVM, a paper slip is printed immediately through the VVPAT machine. This slip contains the poll symbol and name of the candidate. It gives the voter a chance to verify the choice made. These details will be visible for a few seconds on the machine before the same is printed and falls into a drop-box. The VVPAT machines will be accessible only to the polling officers.

“EVMs without VVPAT are vulnerable. No electronic machine is secure without a tangible receipt that can be verified. Electronics can always be manipulated. It’s just a matter of understanding the technology”, Hari Shankar said in this interview.

One of the key voices of EVM reforms, Subramanian Swamy tells The Better India, “The Supreme Court said they would like to continue with the EVMs but asked what safeguards the Election Commission could introduce to better the process. I gave them VVPAT and the cocooning of the chip, which is a technology, that is used in Japan.”

“The Election Commission ordered that the technology has to be used, but the same could not be implemented earlier due to lack of sufficient funds.”

Subramanian Swamy
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

“Finally now the money has been set aside by the Government, through which these two safeguards will be built into the machines. I am hopeful that the 2019 elections will be perfectly safeguarded,” he concludes.

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