Monday , 18 February 2019

Oppn parties urge EC to   revert to ballot paper

NEW DELHI: A number of Opposition parties on Monday demanded reverting to the old system of paper ballot as they questioned the reliability of EVMs, following which the Election Commission said it would provide “satisfactory solution” to their concerns.

Except the Bharatiya Janata Party, all six national recognised political parties were joined by regional players like Samajwadi Party  and Aam Aadmi Party in putting forth the demand for paper ballot to the Election Commission at a meeting here with various parties ahead of Lok Sabha and assembly elections to some states.

The issue of paper ballot and alleged tampering with EVMs was raised by the Congress and other Opposition parties such as SP, Bahujan Samaj Party, Nationalist Congress Party, AAP, Janata Dal-Secular, Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Communist Party of India, besides Forward Bloc.

Claiming that the BJP was isolated on the EVM issue, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said nearly three-fourth of the political parties present  at the meeting raised the issue of alleged tampering and technical snags with electronic voting machines  and demanded going back to the old system of paper ballot from the next election.

“Around 70 per cent political parties have demanded that the EC revert to the old system of ballot paper during elections. Parties who were there, overwhelming 70 per cent supported a reversion to paper ballot,” he told reporters while naming the NCP, BSP, SP, AAP, JD-S, CPI, CPI-M and Forward Bloc that supported the move.

Seven recognised national parties and 51 recognised state political parties were invited for the meeting. Out of the total 58 parties, 41 attended it.

Singhvi said the Congress’ stand was given in writing to the Election Commission many weeks ago and it has been reiterated on Monday  for the second time. He suggested that alternatively there should be 30 per cent cross-checking of EVMs with paper trail of votes to ensure integrity of electoral process.

“Our demand remains undiluted that there should be reversion to paper ballot which is the demand of other political across the spectrum,” he said, claiming that the BJP was “singled out” on the issue.

Singhvi said in the alternative if the EC does not agree to revert to paper ballot, then it could adhere to the suggestion that in at least 30 per cent of the polling booths there should be paper trail of EVMs to check the authenticity of votes cast.

Chief Election Commissioner O P Rawat told reporters after the meeting, “We will definitely look into all the suggestions given by them (political parties) and there will be a satisfactory solution to them.”

Though EVM tampering and VVPAT glitches were not on the agenda, the parties raised these issues.

Some parties also suggested that the number of constituencies where results of EVM and paper audit trail device are matched be increased to enhance the confidence of voters and parties in the reliability of the voting mode.

“Nothing final has been decided yet, but one way to allay fears is to increase the number of constituencies where EVM and paper trail machine results are matched,” a senior EC functionary said after the meeting.

Responding to repeated questions on EVMs, Rawat said the EC takes a comprehensive view.

“Some of the parties said going back to ballot is really bad as it will bring back booth capturing… We don’t want (that). At the same time, some parties said there are problems with EVMs, there are issues with VVPAT slip count so why not EC takes a call on this,” Rawat said.

Asked about the stand of the EC on EVMs and whether it remains the “same” as it was in the past, the Chief Election Commissioner dubbed it as a “hypothetical question”.

In June last year, when the EC had invited parties to prove that the EVMs can be hacked, only two parties accepted the challenge but they too opted out of the event.

As many as 13 parties had last year questioned the reliability of the EVMs.

Singhvi said keeping in view complaints of rampant misuse of money power during elections, especially by the ruling party, the Congress has demanded that ceiling be imposed on the expenditure by political parties during poll campaign.

Currently, there is a limit on poll expenses by a candidate in Lok Sabha and state assemblies but there is no limit on the expenses made by a political party during elections.

“Unregulated party expenditure is a dangerous proposition….There should be a ceiling on the expenditure by political parties,” he said.

“Every result should only be announced after matching the VVPAT and EVM outcomes,” said BSP general secretary Satish Chandra Misra.

SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav said, “We have urged the EC to hold the 2019 Lok Sabha elections using traditional ballot paper system as it is more reliable than the EVMs.”

Over 11 per cent of the 10,300 VVPAT machines across 10 states had developed faults and had to be replaced during the bypolls on May 28 this year.

Voter-verifiable paper audit trail machines dispense a slip with the symbol of the party for which a person has voted for. The slip appears on a small window for seven seconds and then drops in a box. But the voter cannot take it home.

VVPATs are used in all polling stations, but results of EVMs and VVPATs are matched in one polling station per constituency.

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