Thursday, March 16, 2017

EVM Machine

I got chance to work as a Returning Officer in a local body election. As per my experience I can say types of precautions & procedures adopted are such that no tampering can be done in EVM machines. Few days before election date machines were assembled at a large place. This place is out of reach of any unauthorized person, such is the security arrangement. I-cards are the only thing which can provide access to such areas. If our security personnel are strict then no one can enter this area.

Recently the elections in Uttar Pradesh has been completed and results were a debacle for many parties. Few are pointing fingers towards rigging of EVM Machines. For the last 40 years I had been hearing about polling booth CAPTURING by few unsocial elements which were backed by political parties. In every election in UP we used to hear about such incidences. New EVM is more security proof. Once the close button is pressed by the presiding officer EVM cannot register any vote. Thus possibility of making votes other than listed in the voters list or even by capturing booths is negligible. After pressing the button to vote there is a gap after which next vote can be made/pressed. In event of booth capturing there ought to be huge amount of patience on part of them to wait and press again and again the button to vote. I think They will not be in position to manipulate votes, since they will not have such patience. Unlike ballot papers they used to put seal marks on ballot papers rapidly without any break and put all ballot papers into box. That in-built time taking mechanism after casting of vote by pressing button in EVM machine will be enough to surpass the patience of looters.

At time of preparing voting machines EVM all election officials and all political parties are invited for a demonstration. At the time of checking machines also all political parties in fray are invited to see and check for themselves all machines.
We had to check hundreds of EVM. All Buttons, switches and sounds together with the working of display units were checked. After satisfying ourselves machines are brought to the desk for further preparations. Two engineering/Technical hands from the company for technical support were also there. In case of any fault in machine my staff used to call them to rectify the technical snag. 
EVM Machines were distributed/allotted to each Returning Officers as per the number of polling booths in their jurisdiction. After that each machine is tagged with identification numbers.
Each EVM and their boxes were tagged. whole lot of one returning officer was kept separately presumably under custody of RO. But high security provided by the Security personnel from administration kept on vigil. It is only due to all security personnel deputed on Election duty we were able to conduct elections peacefully. There is no doubt about it. I salute all the police forces, security forces who kept guard during election process. it was like 24X7 job for them and as well as for me.

Preparing EVM is a complex but simple process if done step by step. All the presiding and polling officers were given training many times to operate EVMs. Just before lining up of the machines for each Returning Officers, we were also asked to invite all the candidates and political parties to come and see or check EVM at the time of allotting to the Returning Officers. Candidates were requested to check for themselves for their own satisfaction. I had telephoned to many candidates at short notice as was given to me by the Director of election. Few came and few went away citing the delay and time taken in the process. Process of allotment of  EVM took whole one day. It was very tiring job for me. As all those EVMs were being allotted to me, thinking the seriousness i was not able to breath freely. 
Then each and every step there is method of putting identification and check points to safe guard the whole process. All those EVM machines allotted to my area were kept in boxes and keys were handed over to me. That time I cant tell how I was feeling?. Sound of thumping heart was so deafening to my ears. Holding those keys in my hands i was terribly shaking. All those big boxes were transported to another area from where these will have to be distributed to the poling parties.
Each EVM had already been checked and properly numbered. Each were affixed with the list of candidates in election and were properly locked. Two units usually form a set one is the main unit and other is the ballot unit. At the time of distribution EVM to poling parties i did not know as to which EVM unit will go to which party? Since at the time of distribution every poling party is given time to properly check the EVMs allotted to them and try to operate. In case of technical problem these EVMs are changed that time itself. After all checks done by each presiding officers we finalize the allotment of EVMs. 

At the start of Elections dot on time around 7 AM or any time which is fixed for that elections presiding officers were supposed to start preparing EVMs in advance. so that at the time of start of elections voters may start voting and they should not be kept waiting after that time. But before that the polling agents or candidates if present must check and satisfy themselves about the functioning of EVMs. They were requested to put their signatures and seal if so they desire. This process is taken up at every step since beginning i.e. from the preparation of EVMs and the time of affixing the numbers tag to each EVMs the serial numbers or any identification numbers can be listed by candidates and /or they can put their signature and seal. In poling booth also same procedure is adopted so that no doubt left among the candidates.
The most important thing is the mock poll. This has to be done compulsorily. It is a mandatory exercise each poling booth has to take it up. And there is no limit on number of votes or mock buttons are to be pressed. If candidates are 50 then? each can press button to cast mock vote 5 times that amounts to the 50X5 votes 250? In TV news channels few were airing that software are there to manipulate the polling after 100 votes.

 But in our Democracy beauty is that at each step proper transparency is maintained. Every chance is given to candidates to be satisfied over the election process so that it can be held in a free and fair manner. In each Voting machine a paper seal is affixed by presiding officer before locking it to start voting and at that time each candidate in election can put his signature on paper seal. Often polling agents in poling booth do on behalf of their candidate. After satisfactory MOCK POLL EVM machine is locked and properly sealed. MOCK POLL is done in front of every one so as to ensure that machine EVM is functioning properly. It happens in front of every one and done by each of the poling agent therefore no doubt is left on fairness of machines.
On the date of election news from many poling stations came about non functioning of EVMs. For that I had already allotted few spare EVMs to my Sector officer. two or three machines were kept in his vehicle so that he can immediately change these machines and election process can continue without any break. All this happens in front of polling agents/candidates and public thus chance of sabotage in nill.

As I observed that Many times technical problem was that of pressing button either by poling official or the voter without waiting for the proper moment. In the machine when a button is pressed by the officer then only vote can be made by pressing the buttons in the ballot unit. if the button is pressed before that moment it will give error. Thus with little patience every voter is directed to press the button at the proper moment.
After election time is over the tallying is done. Means the list of voters casted votes and the number of votes counted by the machine are tallied, if any discrepancy is found same is to be reported in appropriate paper. It is rare case that votes polled is more than the voters list.
Each step is so tuff that any kind of mistake can easily be caught. Then punishment is also harsh
On the previous night of election day i could not sleep properly. For hours I took round visiting each and every polling booth of my area that consisted of six wards. I went to see that every poling party has reached their poling station or not. Each had got their EVM machine unit with them or not.
It took few hours to take a full round of whole area of which I was Returning officer. In the morning of polling also i had taken a full round to see whether each polling party has started preparing their gadgets and space.  Is there any difficulty or not. Once polling started then onward continuously I was on move for whole day. some times to give EVMs machine to replace at poling stations, or sorting out any difficulty in other polling process etc.

After all the machines were collected at one place that was called strong room. I was asked to keep the key with me, it was like a heart attack to me, I started trembling. Thing was that in that room machines of two Returning officers were kept. I was asked to keep a key with me. I said no, you give another key to that second Returning Officer whose machines are kept in the same room with mine.
I dont know how that senior officer agreed and did not show any angry face to me. On the day of counting we both Returning officers ought to be present with the keys kept with us to open the strong room. However the security of strong room was not directly under me even though key was with me.
All the process of locking and putting seal on the lock of strong room was video graphed.
On that day when both two keys will be present then only door of strong room would be open. Thus i saved myself from owing the responsibility of protection of Machines of another Returning Officer. I shared that responsibility with that returning officer.
Whole area where many such strong rooms were erected was under strong security from all sides. No entry was allowed in that area without proper ID Card issued by authority.

On counting day all the appointed counting agent and polling agents were allowed inside and to those who had valid I-Cards singed by me. On each table where counting is being done counting agents of political parties were standing to keep record of all the happenings. The number of voters, number of votes polled in that EVM. If any discrepancy is noticed by counting or poling agents of candidates proper mechanism is there to register their complains.
I counted the postal ballets in front of all contesting candidates, made a table and gave to the counting desk for further actions. Step by step all counting process began and results were announced after signing by me on each result sheet containing number of votes cast in each polling booth. After that I had to sign a certificate of Election to the wining candidate.
Thus i think it is wrong to say that election through EVM is rigged or can be rigged.
I even think why not voting can be done through Internet? In this digital India why not use digital mechanisms /tools for elections?

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