How have EVMs fared in India?

The Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were introduced in India in the late 90s to make elections process more efficient and democratic. How have the EVMs fared in India? Assess.

The context

Holding free, fair, and fast elections is a cornerstone of democracy and is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Introduction of EVMs by due process of consultation and constitutional amendment in the 1980s and ’90s was a step taken to strengthen the democratic process in India, which is by far the largest democracy in the world with more than 800 million voters.

How have the EVMs helped?

The EVMs have helped in making the election process better in the following ways:

  • EVMs led to a significant decline in electoral fraud, particularly in politically sensitive States. In several constituencies, polling booths were routinely captured under the paper ballot system and ballot boxes were stuffed. As a result, political leaders, instead of working in the larger interest of the public, worked for the private profits of a small fraction of people who had the greatest capacity to commit fraud. Introducing EVMs transformed this.
  • Rigging elections became difficult and may a times, electoral agenda revoled around development. Political leaders had to commit to providing public goods and services and work for the development of people. This way, EVMs have contributed to development.
  • EVMs led to a significant decline in violence, particularly in States that were more prone to electoral violence.
  • Data from civil society and NGOs that monitor elections found that EVMs empowered those from the weaker sections of society who were victims of political or electoral violence. In particular, we found that women, lower castes, and those less educated were more likely to participate in the electoral process when EVMs were used.
  • EVMs made the electoral process more competitive. There has been a significant decline in the incidence of re-election, and winning margins have reduced dramatically.
Problems with EVMs

Even though introduction of EVMs was a step in the right direction, it is not the final destination. This becomes evident if we consider the following:

  • Countries realise that EVMs are problematic, because they carry the risk of being tampered with. That computers can rig an election with the help of AI technology is well established. Therefore, world over, countries are moving to paper ballots.
  • The scope of EVM manipulation is very wide. If EVMs are manipulated, all the votes could be captured with a greater degree of sophistication to favour one party.
  • There are also fears especially in the context of majoritarian governments as such a government can subvert all the major institutions, if tampering does take place.
  • If officials and those guarding the EVM machines are complicit, it is quite possible to replace the chips to get the desired verdict.

One alternative is to go back to paper ballots but they also have their share of problems like transportation and handling issues. Their guarding is also a problem as ballot boxes have routinely been captured.