Indian democracy and politics are intertwined and complex. Elections provide a window into the process and the basis for important political judgments. The election has always been the most debated topic in India, and The Election Commission of India (ECI) has the supreme authority in ensuring that the process is fair and rightly done. EVMs Vs Paper Ballots : Should India Switch Back to Paper Ballots? is the most common debate during the election times. EVMs Vs Paper Ballots : Should India Switch Back to Paper Ballots? is also one of the common GD topics as it is the comparison of technology and the old traditional method.
The voting process in India has evolved. From counting by hand to punch cards to optical scanner machines and now EVMs, we have come a long way. Technology is changing every day and plays a vital role in vote casting. Electing the right leader through a fair process is the primary objective of the voting process.
According to the official website of the ECI, Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were first put to use by the Election Commission of India on an experimental basis for the first time in 16 Assembly Constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and NCT of Delhi in elections to the respective Legislative Assemblies held in 1998. The experiments were successful, and EVMs were later rolled out on a full-fledged basis in 2004, and the ECI scraped paper ballots completely.
Why did the need for EVMs arise in the first place?
To understand this let us first look into the system of voting using Paper Ballots.
Paper ballots are the cheapest form of voting in any country. A ballot is a simple scrap of paper with preprinted names of the candidate and voters choose by filling an oval on the printed ballot next to their preferred candidate’s name. Tabulating machines count the ballots either after the polls close or as the voters feed the ballots into the machine, in which case the results are not known until after the polls close. Officials often will manually count any ballots that cannot be read or with a write-in candidate and may recount the ballots in the event of a dispute.
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EVMs Vs Paper Ballots : Should India Switch Back to Paper Ballots?
Advantages of a Paper Ballot
Hack free method
Hacking of ballot papers is difficult. It is by far the most hacking-immune voting method. No matter the complexity of the activity it is used for, it cannot be pre-processed to give a specific outcome. So, the competing parties cannot manipulate paper ballots to get the results in their favor.
Several countries use paper ballots for their elections. In 2006, the Netherlands banned the use of EVMs followed by the Republic of Ireland, Germany, and Italy in 2009. Developed countries like England, France, and the United States have also banned the use of EVMs. Severe doubts about safety, accuracy, reliability, and verification of elections through electronic machines have encouraged even the developed nations to rely on ballot papers.
No technicality involved
EVMs can be intriguing for people who are not tech savvy. Computerized voting systems can be especially demotivating for people with a low level of literacy, and as a result, they might not turn up to cast their votes. Paper ballots, on the other hand, require no technical intervention can be easily used by everyone.
Few Electronic Voting Machines work on the battery which might get stuck in between due to low power charge. Thus paper ballots are more reliable in this case as they are not dependent on external factors for their usage and they promise uninterrupted voting.
Using the paper ballot is time-consuming, but it generates a lot of employment for the people who are engaged in vote counting. Due to the automation of electronic voting machines, it takes less workforce to calculate the votes which directly impacts the employment rate of people during the general election.
Disadvantages of Paper Ballots
Prone to human error
In case of paper ballots, the votes are counted manually. It is quite prone to human error. Physical counting processes, which can be completed by a machine or by hand are often inaccurate. In an experimental audit, researchers revealed that different groups of auditors reach different tallies close to 40% of the time and that the average error percentage for any given candidates count was 1.4%, enough to swing any close election.
Paper and materials
Sealing envelopes and transporting election materials alone accounted for 40% of the cost of the 2012 French presidential and legislative elections. From ballot papers and information leaflets to electoral cards, each item must be printed and routed physically to voters or polling stations. These costs are further increased in the case of legislative elections, where there are more candidates and requiring more materials to be produced. Colombia, for example, had to print 102 million ballot papers during its 2014 parliamentary elections, even though the country only had 32 million voters. When even the most polluting industries are adopting eco-friendly technology, shifting back to the paper that too on such a vast scale would further damage the environment.
Time and labor intensive
There were approximately 80 crore registered voters in India during the2014 general elections, and this figure is expected to increase during the 2019 elections. Counting such a massive number of votes manually is quite a tiresome job, and the number of people involved for monitoring and doing the same would further add up the costs. In the 2017 UK general election, £22 million (15%) of the £140 million election budget was spent on employee engagement and training.
There have been several instances where political parties try and use muscle power to get the outcomes in their favor. The quantity, location, and security of polling stations provide a ready handle to manipulate results, which can be used as a deterrent for voters who wish to avoid all-day lines or risks to their physical safety.
Vulnerabilities exist from start to end. There have been instances wherein the inks used for casting votes have been found different. Sometimes, even some papers where votes are cast can be changed voluntarily or under forced circumstances; thus, making the voting scenario quite unsafe for both voters and members of the election commission.
Now let us move forward and understand how the votes are cast with the Electronic Voting Machines and what are its advantages and disadvantages.
The EVMs used in India have been designed by the Election Commission’s Technical Expert Committee (TEC) in collaboration with two PSU’s – Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangalore and Electronic Corporation of India, Hyderabad. Besides this, India has given technical support to design EVMs in Jordan, Maldives, Namibia, Egypt, Nepal, and Bhutan.
Advantages of EVMs
EVMs are more efficient in the election process as they rule out the standard errors that are associated with Ballot Papers. The technical aspects of EVMs make sure that the votes are counted accurately, timely and little human help is required for their operation.
The thing with technology is that you can continuously update them to meet the changing needs of society. EVMs can be further improved to remove their existing glitches and make it a foolproof system. On the contrary, the paper ballot system cannot be upgraded.
Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)
The VVPAT was introduced in EVMs by Supreme Court order in 2013. This is essentially a printout of the vote that a voter has cast. This system was developed to make sure that voters were satisfied that their votes were being cast to the candidates chosen by them and not to any other party or candidate. VVPAT further helps the voters know that they have successfully voted for their candidate. This is especially helpful for people who are not tech savvy and are unsure whether they have given vote successfully or not.
Challenging to hack
The ECI threw an open challenge in June 2017 for people who proclaimed that they could hack the EVMs with the utmost ease. However, no one could successfully challenge the ECI, and there are no records of the EVMs being hacked.
Disadvantages of EVMs
Technology and glitch coexist. EVM malfunctioning has been reported earlier. There have been instances where EVMs have break downs due to battery failure or other reasons. Although EVMs are replaced then, still the voting process gets hampered, and the delays are frustrating particularly for voters.
Tampering occurs when an individual or group of individuals hack the machine to register all the votes on a particular EVM to a specific party. Although it has not been proved, yet many parties claim that EVMs have been tampered in the past to modify the election results.
What to choose now?
EVMs Vs Paper Ballots : Should India Switch Back to Paper Ballots? While there have been controversies surrounding EVM tampering, still they have not to be proven so far. Given the risks and malpractices governing the use of paper ballots, EVMs are still a better option for casting votes. Also, as technology can be continuously upgraded, so efforts should be made to make the EVMs more powerful and risk-free so that the voting remains safe and fair for everyone. But reverting to paper ballots is more like taking a step backward and inviting more evil in the process.
Automation in industries has been happening for over a century. Replacing humans with machines have become a universal norm. It is predicted that soon most work tasks will be fully automated. Work is set to disappear through mass automation.