The Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued a statement urging the Election Commission of India (ECI) to “draw attention” towards “certain serious concerns that have arisen, particularly from the experience of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, amongst many political parties and a large section of the voters.”
The CPI (M) release identifies two key areas for the ECI to investigate; Foremost is the functioning of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) along with the Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) and secondly the “impact of the electoral bonds and the role of money power on the conduct of free and fair elections.”
The release states that numerous petitions were filed with the Supreme Court of India (SC), however no action has yet been taken by the top court. A report by the Citizens Commission of Elections (CCE), a civil society body, on the functioning of the Indian EVM and VVPAT systems, raised several questions on the conduct of elections in India. The report, highlights vulnerabilities in the election process and draws its conclusions from domain experts including those in the field of cyber security.
The CPI (M) release goes on to say, “The credibility of the conduct of elections in an electoral democracy is almost exclusively dependent on the implementation and the actions of the regulatory body, which in our case is the ECI. The Indian Constitution mandates and empowers the commission with very wide powers under Article 324.”
“The credibility of the election process is based on transparency; and explanations provided by the ECI being verifiable. However, on both these counts, the response of the ECI, following the 2019 elections has been far less than adequate.” Adds the release.
Issues over Transparency in Elections
VVPAT was introduced in 2013 to assuage voter doubts over the perceived lack of transparency, and while it served its intended purpose, another poignant query crept up, “whether that is what is being recorded in the Control Unit which counts the votes of the EVM is not known.”
The release highlights the following issues, “The choice exercised in the Ballot Unit ought to have been routed through the Control Unit of the EVM which would in turn be transmitted to the VVPAT to be visible to the voter. The current sequence of the three units is otherwise. Therefore, there is a strong case for re-working the sequence of placement of these components. This is a critical question.”
“Unfortunately, even after stating this concern, there has been no response from the ECI.” It is in this background that the demand for matching the VVPAT output with the votes as recorded in the EVM has come up strongly.” continues the release.
Furthermore, the release points out that the number of designated machines for such matching is “abysmally low”. An argument made in the release claims that this disproportion has “added a crucial and unique vulnerability to the system,” as compared to the “pre-VVPAT days.”
According to the CPI (M), “The biggest defense of the sacrosanct nature of the EVM was on the ground that the chip in the EVM machine was unaware of the names and symbols of the candidates
before it was placed for verification.
“Subsequently, mock poll and sealing was done for actual voting. VVPAT has changed all this and introduces the element of prior knowledge of the precise information about names of
candidates, their respective symbols and the order of the names that appears on the Ballot Unit.
“In terms of actual operation, other factual evidence has shown that the introduction of the names, symbols and order on the Ballot Unit is interlinked with the operation of the VVPAT with the involvement of private agencies.
“Therefore, if the VVPAT is manipulated and is subsequently connected to the Control Unit, it is possible that the manipulation is reflected in recording the vote.”
“We have not received any authentic response from the ECI on this count so far.” The CPI (M) reiterated.
Opaque Campaign Finance
The release also questioned campaign finance claiming that “The introduction of electoral bonds has made corporate funding absolutely opaque.” The release spoke about the commissions own views presented to the SC, “not once but twice, that such unaccounted flow of funds will make it impossible for the Commission to monitor the trail.”
It also called into question the lack of a timely resolution on the matter and how the ECI will deal with the issue of opaque corporate funding, and curb it to ensure free and fair elections as per its mandate under Article 324 of the Indian Constitution.
The release also highlighted publicly available information indicating electoral bonds will be issued from 1 April 2021 and that “52% of the total funding from all sources has gone to the Bhartiya Janta Party, outstripping the amounts received by all other political parties put together. According to data by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) reported that the BJP received 95% of electoral bond funds in the run up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
“This has adverse natural consequences. On the ground, the huge financial resources at the disposal of the BJP are quite visible. Again, this is one area where the Commission has not come out with any detailed plan of action for neutralising the adverse impact.” Argued the release.
The CPI (M) has called for re-working of the sequence of placement of the three units, ensuring that the voters’ choice exercised in the Ballot Unit goes into the Control Unit of the EVM where it is recorded and then routed to the VVPAT. It has demanded 100% matching of VVPAT output with the EVM recorded data for each booth and a detailed plan of action and a status report on implementation to eliminate the adverse impact of money power.
The release further read “Since the elections to five state assemblies have been already announced and campaigning is already underway, an urgent response would be imperative to set at rest the doubts in public minds.”
“The credibility and the faith in the system is crucially dependent on transparency with which the ECI conducts itself.” Concluded the release.