Polling in the keenly contested Lok Sabha byelections in Kairana in Uttar Pradesh, Bhandra-Gondiya and Palghar in Maharashtra and Nagaland, besides several Assembly constituencies elsewhere, were marred by reports of malfunctioning of EVMs in many booths, especially in Kairana and Bhandra-Gondiya.
The Election Commission responded to the reports saying that the claims of large-scale malfunctioning were an “exaggerated projection of reality”. But the Chief Election Officer, Uttar Pradesh also admitted in a statement that the commission received complaints of malfunctioning of VVPAT machines from 384 polling stations in Kairana following which replacement machines were used. This caused delays in polling in more than a few places.
The VVPAT replacement rate, due to glitches in the machines that were deployed, was as high as 20.82% (way above the 5% limit seen as acceptable by the EC) in Kairana, 19.22% in Bhandara-Gondia and 13.16% in Palghar.
The high rate of VVPAT malfunctioning contrasted with the relatively low failures in control and ballot units — only Bhandara-Gondia recorded more than a 1% failure rate among the PCs which polled. The failures were attributed by an ECI spokesperson to the fact that VVPATs were being used for the first time by polling staff (unlike the EVM itself), and the fact that these electronic devices were sensitive to extreme heat, placement under direct light and possible mishandling. Similar reasons were attributed to the substantive number of VVPAT failures that were reported in other Assembly elections held recently. In the Karnataka Assembly elections, 1,702 VVPAT machines developing glitches during polling and others during testing, overall close to 4.2% of all machines.
What is VVPAT?
The VVPAT, or Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail, is an EVM-connected verification printer device. It allows 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. After the voter casts his or her mandate by pressing a button in the EVM, the VVPAT connected to it prints a slip containing the poll symbol and the name of the candidate. Slips from a randomly selected polling booth from each constituency are then matched with the EVM tallies during counting to check for the accuracy of the process.
The VVPATs were added to bring in accountability to the voting process, with many parties questioning whether the EVMs were indeed malpractice or rigging-proof. EVMs, in use since 1998 in India, have been gradually upgraded with security features and the ECI has suggested that it has robust procedural and technical safeguards to prevent EVM-tampering and electoral malpractices such as rigging. The VVPATs were introduced in the past year and were universally used in the Assembly elections in Goa in February 2017. But the addition of the VVPAT has also increased the complexity of the otherwise simple single programmable chip-based device, rendering it more prone to glitches. The Technical Experts Committee of the ECI is tasked with finding remedial solutions in such situations.