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The Curious Case Of EVMs Malfunctioning In UP And Maharashtra

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During elections in India, apprehensions regarding the proper functioning of EVMs and the political motives behind them are well-discussed and debated in political circles. But, the moment the election results are favorable, the media as well as politicians both move on forward to another election, giving a cold shoulder to the issues surrounding the EVMs.

In the recently-concluded bypolls in Kairana (UP) and Bhandara-Gondia (Maharashtra), cases of EVMs malfunctioning (which led to a stop in polling activities) were reported at many polling booths, due to which re-polling was done at various polling booths. Though the news of EVMs malfunctioning is nothing new, the Election Commission’s statement that the snags in the EVMs in both UP and Maharashtra could be attributed to the high temperatures caught everyone’s attention – from common people and politicians to the academics.

Representative image

So, even if we keep aside all the apprehensions of EVM-hacking and tampering for a moment, one would perhaps like to know if high temperature can really cause EVMs to malfunction. If yes, what are the other situations under which EVMs can malfunction? What is the solution – and if there is no solution, why do we still stick to EVM’s?

In 1990, the central government appointed the Electoral Reforms Committee (Goswami Committee) which recommended that EVMs should be tested by technical experts to remove any doubts or misapprehensions regarding the credibility of the machines. Based on the recommendations of the Electoral Reform Committee, two Technical Expert Committees were formulated which gave their reports in 1990 and 2006, respectively. In both the reports, there was a brief discussion regarding their findings and the probable reasons for EVMs malfunctioning and the ways out.

Both reports, at point 4.1, state that:

“The equipments have also gone through climatic tests prescribed in the Quality Assurance (QA) manuals. The Committee noted that the failure rates during the trial period are insignificant. In addition, the catastrophic failure may occur because of failure of Microcontroller Chips in which case repolling may be necessary. The cases of non catastrophic failure can be catered to by the redeployment of a spare machine. Similarly, the Ballot Unit can also be replaced with a time loss of utmost 15-20 minutes in case of a catastrophic failure. “

At an earlier point too, the 1990 report states that: “[…] During this period, due to attack by vermin rats, fungus, or due to mechanical damage, the system may malfunction. Therefore, the Committee recommends that before every election, the manufacturers may be asked to check (this can be done very fast through a very simple exerciser) and ensure that all the units are functioning as designed. Incidentally, this method will check what is called ‘the signature of Machine’ and thereby, the manufacturers will be able to certify that the Machine is identical to what they had supplied, and it has not been replaced by any other.”

Looking at the findings and recommendations of the two committees, it becomes clear that proper care of all the aspects of EVMs was taken by the technical expert committee. The way forward, in case they malfunction, was also shown. Thus, the need of the hour is that the political parties and the voters themselves should raise these issues whenever they happen. By no means should such discussions be limited or curbed based upon the results of an election. No matter how favorable or unfavorable the electoral outcomes may be, at the end of the day, it is the citizens of India who cannot exercise upon their voting rights when EVMs malfunction.

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