In Campaign Against EVMs, UP Election Commission Backs Paper Ballots (With A Caveat)

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In Campaign Against EVMs, UP Election Commission Backs Paper Ballots (With A Caveat)

UP State Election Commission might use paper ballot, not EVMs, for civic body elections. (FIle photo)

LUCKNOW:  Amid a huge push by opposition to allege Electronic Voting Machines are not safe, the Uttar Pradesh poll body that conducts civic body polls has told the Election Commission that the state preferred to use paper ballots if the central poll panel couldn't supply voting machines in "good working condition". SK Agarwal, State Election Commissioner, told NDTV that he would prefer to use ballot papers for elections to the state's local bodies if the Election Commission could not supply voting machines in good working condition.

Elections to the state's local bodies have to be completed well before 15 July.

The remarks come against a sustained campaign challenging the reliability of voting machines after the BJP's spectacular win in Uttar Pradesh. BSP's Mayawati was the first to allege that machines used for the assembly polls but this claim has received widespread from other opposition parties.

The State Election Commission, which could end up using paper ballots for the urban body polls, is an independent body mandated to conduct elections to panchayats and municipal bodies. It is distinct from the Chief Electoral Office that conducts assembly and parliamentary elections in states under the supervision of the Election Commission in Delhi.

When the state panel approached the Election Commission for the voting machines about six months back, it was told to pick them up from Madhya Pradesh. But when Mr Agarwal's office got in touch with Madhya Pradesh, it transpired that they had already passed on the machines to Maharashtra.

Mr Agarwal said he had spoken to Chief Election Commissioner Naseem Zaidi who could only spare the older version of EVMs manufactured in or before 2006. "I will prefer the ballot paper," Mr Agarwal is learnt to have said, adding: If these EVMs have outlived their life, you (EC) should not send them for elections, whether we ask for them or not".

Sources said the state election commission had sent a letter to the Election Commission on these lines. Election Commission officials in Delhi did not respond to the State Election Commission's version, adding that it would give "an appropriate response" once the letter was received.

If Mr Agarwal does decide to stick with paper ballots, this won't be the first time for the state.

The state commission had used paper ballots, not EVMs, to conduct the 2015 panchayat elections in the most populous state. In 2012 too, the panel had only used voting machines for elections in bigger cities which have Mayors. Ballot papers were used in towns that elect a municipal council.

But a poll panel in a state where the BJP is in power opting for paper ballots over EVMs would fuel the opposition charge questioning the reliability about the voting machines.

The older EVMs rejected by the panel in Lucknow were last deployed for the 2014 General Elections. The Election Commission has over 9.3 lakh EVMs purchased before 2006 that are being phased out when they complete their 15-year life cycle. Last year, the Union Cabinet had cleared the commission's plan to buy 14 lakh new EVMs that are equipped with a self-diagnostic system to authenticate the genuineness of the machines.

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