Retrograde demands

As part of its regular interaction with political parties to make the electoral process more transparent, inclusive and credible, the Election Commission (EC) on Monday met seven national and 34 regional political parties. With India expected to hold several state Assembly elections later this year and the general election in May next year, the latest meeting had added significance. However, the arguments put forward by a majority of opposition parties were unwarranted. There were essentially three major demands: One, India should give up on electronic voting machines (EVMs) and move back to paper ballots. Two, voter identification cards should be linked to Aadhaar. And, three, the EC should place a limit on the total expenditure that a political party can make in elections.

The most regressive suggestion, of course, was to revert to paper ballots. A whole bunch of political parties, including the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Trinamool Congress, flagged the issue of malfunctioning of EVMs. The Congress spokesperson reportedly quoted the EC’s data to claim that as many as 13 per cent of EVMs had malfunctioned during the Kairana Lok Sabha by-election in Uttar Pradesh on May 28. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power in the Lok Sabha, however, opposed the move.

EVMs have typically been questioned by parties after losing elections. In 2009, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party which asked the EC to revert to paper ballots after losing to the Congress in the general election. There is no doubt that EVMs are tamper-proof and eliminate booth capturing, a favourite pastime of political parties during elections, as the machines do not allow casting of more than five votes a minute. Besides, a return to the ballot paper system would not be advisable as it would come with huge environmental costs and logistical issues. The addition of voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines, which are used to verify that the vote polled goes to the correct candidate, has further enhanced the credibility of EVMs. As a second line of verification, VVPATs are particularly useful when allegations of EVM tampering crop up.

The other demand that voter ID cards be linked to Aadhaar is perhaps prompted by concerns about the existence of ghost voters. For instance, the Congress has complained about six million fake voters in the electoral rolls of Madhya Pradesh and over four million in Rajasthan. It is true that Aadhaar would go a long way in eliminating ghost voters, but it isn’t itself a proof of citizenship. Moreover, given the mounting privacy concerns related to Aadhaar, mandating it as the final adjudicator for voting rights is questionable. 

The last demand was about the increasing expenses in elections. But here again, the solution is ill-directed. As has been seen repeatedly in the past, enforcing artificial expenditure limits on individual candidates has always been a tricky affair as it is difficult to monitor and leads to more corruption in the system. The better and more robust solution lies in the EC as well as the parties working together to make electoral funding more transparent.