'Pioneer Of Digital Democracy': India 1st Country In The World To Use EVMs

It was on May 19, 1982, that EVMs were used in Kerala as a pilot project where 50 out of the 84 polling stations used the first-ever secure direct digital vote recording device in the world.

'Pioneer Of Digital Democracy': India 1st Country In The World To Use EVMs

Nearly 5.5 million EVMs will be used in the 2024 parliamentary elections. (Representational)

New Delhi:

It is a well-known fact that India is the world's largest democracy, but not many know that it is India that perfected and deployed mass electronic voting for the first time anywhere in the world. So, the country, in a way, was also the pioneer of digital democracy.

It was on May 19, 1982, that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were used in Kerala as a pilot project in the North Paravur constituency, where 50 out of the 84 polling stations used the first-ever secure direct digital vote recording device in the world. The second country to try EVMs was the Netherlands, almost a decade later in the 1990s, according to data from the Atlantic Council, a US-based think tank.

"EVMs and India have a fascinating history; they came well before the Information Technology revolution. IBM had just introduced personal computers in the USA a few months earlier when India got EVMs," explains Professor Rajeeva L Karandikar from the Chennai Mathematical Institute, adding, "They are truthful machines."

"Most of us know that India invented the zero long eons ago, but more recently, in 1982, India became the world's first country to use that 'zero' in electronic voting machines, since electronics is all about zeroes and ones. Today, nearly a billion people will cast their votes on tamper-proof third-generation EVMs. So there should be no doubt that India is the mother of democracy and today a digitally empowered democracy. India was a pioneer in using electronic voting machines and remains the fountainhead of innovation for secure electoral voting," explains a director of an IIT who is deeply involved in designing and securing the EVM technology.

"EVMs are a matter of pride for India as they cannot lie, and I have no doubts about the credibility of the machines," asserted TS Krishnamurthy, a former Chief Election Commissioner under whose tenure EVMs became universal.

Even today, just about twenty-five countries use digital voting. According to the Election Commission of India, the countries using EVMs include the USA, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, Namibia, Nepal, Bhutan, Armenia, and Bangladesh, to name a few.

Globally, there are several types of digital voting. There is fully electronic voting like India has, and then there are systems where only the counting is electronic. Some countries, like Estonia, have started using internet-based remote voting, while others have internet-based voting at designated polling stations. Some use optical scanners with both networked and non-networked machines.

In most countries, electronic voting devices are made by private companies, which are considered less cyber secure compared to the government-owned facilities in India that manufacture the EVMs. The world's most advanced country, the USA, uses several different forms of electronic voting and has no nationwide standard. Some believe that blockchain-based voting could be the way forward. Who knows, India could well enable Aadhaar-based voting in the future, but all internet-based voting is prone to cyber fraud, say experts.

This year, half the world's population is going to hold elections, but it is only in India that 969 million voters are eligible to cast their votes, and all of them will be recorded digitally in over 1.05 million polling booths. In fact, in the first four phases of voting, ECI data shows that already 451 million Indians have cast their vote. To put this in perspective, the number of voters who have cast their vote digitally in the last few weeks is more than the entire population of the USA, which is about 335 million.

Since 2004, all Parliamentary elections have been conducted using EVMs, and ECI data indicates that some 3,200 million, or 320 crore, votes in all have been cast to date on EVMs—a whopping number—and not even one recorded case of tampering has been proved.

Interestingly, several countries have initiated electronic voting, but some have given up after a short trial as they did not find them to be cyber secure. This includes the Netherlands and Germany, both of which have abandoned electronic voting. The vulnerability and fault lie in using networked machines, in which citizens had little trust.

"The benign beauty of India's EVMs is that they are under designed for a 21st-century electronic gadget, and hence this makes them tamper-proof and hacking-resistant," explains an expert from IIT-Bombay who assisted the ECI in designing the EVMs.

Nearly 5.5 million EVMs will be used in the 2024 parliamentary elections, and each is a standalone device almost akin to a basic calculator. Even the latest third-generation EVMs, the M3 machines that the ECI is using, are not connected to the internet and cannot connect to Bluetooth. This makes them impenetrable through remote devices, and the M3 machines, if they are opened or tampered with, are designed to go into a safety mode, which makes them inoperable and only the original manufacturer can reset the machine.

Many foreign experts have often complained that India's EVMs are antiquated and need to be modernized. However, experts at ECI say sometimes being obsolete gives electronic technology that level of extra security, since if one has to hack EVMs, then 5.5 million individual EVMs will have to be hacked, which is a near impossibility, and subsequently, the randomization provides that additional security.

In the 21st century, Indian EVMs and digital voting are considered the gold standard. India's pioneering innovation of EVMs empowers 1.4 billion Indians to vote freely and fairly.