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Capabilities, Weaknesses of EVM Voting in National Elections

Election 2022-05-22, 10:49am


Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed

Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed
According to the Constitution of Bangladesh, the supervision, direction, control and conduct of fair elections is vested in the Election Commission. In carrying out this duty, the Election Commission is completely independent and has to perform it only under the Constitution and the relevant laws. It is a great challenge for the Commission to remove the obstacles by constantly monitoring the effectiveness of each aspect of election management in fulfilling this constitutional responsibility. Innovation, use of advanced methods and technologies are therefore the key components of the Commission's strategy. In this context, the Commission has been conducting experiments on the use of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) since 2009 and it is in practice now. Among the SAARC countries, all countries more or less have started using electronic ballot through EVM instead of using paper ballot in elections.  Pakistan also wants to use EVMs in their upcoming parliamentary elections and to that end they have recently called for international tenders for the procurement of those machines.
The question of its acceptability cannot be resolved. The new Election Commission is to make the election question-free, transparent and to keep playing level field for all the participants in the election. In that case, whether they are 100% successful. How determination they have to fulfill these constitutional responsibilities must be proved through their work. Especially in the last 15 years, more countries have rejected EVMs in the world. The list includes Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Venezuela, Ukraine, Malaysia and many states in the United States. Opposition parties in India have recently raised voices against EVMs. Currently only EVMs are fully operational in India, Brazil, Philippines and Estonia. Electronic voting machines, or EVMs, were first introduced in the United States in 1960 with the aim of facilitating voting. Although the EVM system has been around for almost 70 years, it has not been able to gain the trust of the people in many countries of the world. So far, about 34 countries have used or tested EVMs. Of these, 14 countries have completely shut down. It is being used partially in 11 countries. It is being used as a pilot project in 5 countries. According to an investigative report in the Economic Times of India, EVMs are used in only 4 out of 200 countries in the world.
Several weaknesses of the EVM were found on the ground at the polling station. EVM voting in the latest Narayanganj City Corporation (Nasik) election. Slowness has been observed in the centers. Another big problem is that the fingerprints of the elderly, especially female voters, do not match. Many could not vote for this. However, due to the unfamiliarity of the voters with the use of machines, the speed of voting has been reduced. In the just-concluded Union Parishad (UP) and municipal polls, EVMs received 10-15 per cent less votes than ballots. In such a scenario, voting in EVMs in the forthcoming national elections will naturally deprive many voters from voting, which analysts believe cannot be desirable in any way in democratic politics. Our divisive politics is all about making important national decisions; At the same time, it has become a major obstacle to national unity and progress. We will be even greater beneficiaries if we can level the playing field of politics, eliminate inequality in the case of majority voters and remove mistrust created in the minds of the people and move forward with the participation of all in the development of the country.
According to the EC, a male booth for 500 male voters, a female booth for 400 female voters and a polling station for at least 25,000 voters were set up. As such, the number of polling booths in the next election will be more than two and a half lakhs. Although it is not possible in every booth, one EVM machine has to be backed up in each center. As such, if we want to vote in all the three hundred seats, we will need about three lakh EVMs. Apart from this, two lakh more machines will be required for training of polling officials including mock voting of voters. In all, about five lakh machines will be required. EC now has 1 lakh 52 thousand 535 machines. Of these, 20 percent or 30,000 machines have become useless due to lack of proper maintenance. In order to vote in EVMs in all the seats, at least three and a half lakh new machines will be required. Before the Eleventh Parliamentary Election, the last KM Nurul Huda Commission bought 1.5 lakh EVMs at a cost of Tk 3,625 crore. The EC bought another 2,535 EVMs outside the project. According to EC officials, EVM equipment has already been damaged in many districts due to improper storage. However, instructions have been given by the EC Secretariat at different times at the field level on proper maintenance of these machines. EC officials said voting in the 12th parliamentary elections could take place by the end of next year. As such, the EC has only 15 months. During this period, EC will have to collect the remaining EVMs and provide manpower training.
EVM voting should not be allowed in the forthcoming parliamentary elections without gaining the confidence of political parties and voters. That is why they are giving importance to remove the doubts of the voters and restore their confidence. Many voters think that there is an opportunity to manipulate the election through the memory card of EVM. If the voters' suspicions are not removed, the election results could be disputed after the EVM polls. In the interest of democracy, the need for a healthy stream of politics must first and foremost ensure transparent, question-free, acceptable elections. We have to put an end to the politics of revenge by discussing with each other with a generous attitude. The Prime Minister has spoken of trying to get everyone elected. For this, the strong will of the government party or alliance is needed first.
We cannot call EVM voting e-voting. Because when it comes to e-voting, it comes down to the use of computers. In the near future, computer support may be needed for greater transparency, reliability, acceptability and 100% accuracy of EVMs. If the decision to use EVMs is based on participatory elections, the opinion of the voters, the opinion of the political parties, the opinion of the government and the opposition, the opinion of the civil society and the consensus of all the stakeholders, then there will be no further debate. Voting in EVMs in all the seats in the upcoming national elections is a very challenging issue. There is a shortage of trained skilled manpower and also a shortage of machines. But whatever the method, if the election is conducted in an acceptable, impartial, free, honest and reliable manner, then there will be no doubt. Transparency in elections will come, as well as the foundation of democracy will be strengthened. It is in no way desirable to complicate the environment and the situation by engaging in a debate on a particular issue.
Finally, the EVM system is being considered to facilitate the election process. However, this method has already been rejected by many developed countries. Some countries are trying to use it experimentally. One hundred percent benefits may take time to come.  However, since it is a machine, problems with the mechanism of the machine can occur at any time in any way. It is also important to consider how responsible we are for the proper maintenance of this machine. We need to pay close attention to the storage and storage system of EVM machines. In general, we understand that Man is behind machine, machine is not behind man- that is, machines are operated by humans. So a lot depends on the goodwill and honesty of the people. We hope that the new Election Commission, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of the EVM in voting, will ensure its use in the elections by gaining the confidence of the political parties by making it as flawless as possible. And above all, the election will be conducted by ensuring the environment of label playing field by resolving the crisis of confidence in all elections including national elections - that is what the pro-democracy people expect.
Former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh Ansar and VDP is Writer, columnist and researcher.