Even as the world marvels at how India conducts its elections, a humble contributor to its success is a robust yet low-cost innovation - the Electronic Voting Machine or EVM - which empowers its 900-million Indian electorate. This mind-boggling number is nearly double the entire population of the USA, the world's oldest democracy.
There is no doubt one unqualified winner of the elections, highly vilified but a winner no doubt that stands head and shoulders higher than even Prime Minister Narendra Modi! This candidate spoke in a baritone but polled a record 613 million votes and got one hundred percent success, beating the National Democratic Alliance by a whopping nearly fifty percent higher strike rate. You guessed it right, it is the humble Electronic Voting Machine or EVM. According to data released by the Election Commission of India, as many as 61.3 crore voters exercised their franchise in the 2019 polls -the highest till date in any election conducted across the world.
The EVM was belittled by almost all opposition parties for some reason or another and highest court of the country kept hearing petitions against the indigenously made machines even as polling was ongoing. But, in the end, the over 1.12 million EVMs performed marvellously, and post-elections, not even a single complaint has been registered against them. Proven well beyond doubt to be tamper-proof and hack-resistant, even the worst losers in the 2019 polls have not blamed this tool.
The Election Commission of India says it used a total of 1.48 million EVM ballot units; 1.12 million EVM control units and 1.12 million Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail or VVPAT units at 1,035,918 polling stations across India. For the first time, the count from 20,625 VVPAT machines was tallied with EVMs and the Election Commission of India says not even one case of mismatch was reported. This should help convince the 22 political parties which kept suspecting and doubting the process.
Dr Rajat Moona is the technical brain behind the design of most modern M3 version of EVMs. "To our mind, it was clear and we could convince people in general that EVMs are tamper-proof. With the zero mismatch seen in the currently concluded Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections, even the mute EVMs have spoken. It is time for us Indians to have faith in ourselves and stop asking questions such as 'When other advanced countries don't use them, why are we using it?'" Dr Moona, director of the Indian Institute of Technology-Bhilai and member of the technical committee that advises the Election Commission of India, said.
Not many know that the same engineers who make atom bombs for India also make the EVMs, and the same hands that make the components for India's inter-continental ballistic missile Agni-5 also fabricate and design electronic voting machines. All the EVMs are manufactured by two public sector companies: the Bharat Electronics Limited in Bengaluru and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited in Hyderabad. Both these agencies contribute to India's security with an unblemished record.
The Indian electronic voting machine is a standalone battery-powered robust white device very similar in functioning to the basic calculator but reinforced with several layers of security. The latest M3 machines cost just Rs 17,000 per unit and can be used repeatedly for about 15 years. Uniquely, the Indian voting machine is not networked or linked to the Internet and is considered one of the finest innovations in modern India.
The size of the standard key board but a little thicker, these machines have no WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity, and data between its various parts - the control unit, the balloting unit and the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail unit - travel encrypted with a date and time stamp on it. A minimalist invention made for rough and tough Indian conditions, it performed effortlessly from almost sea level in the Great Nicobar Island to India's highest polling station of Tashigang village in Himachal Pradesh at 4,650 meters almost halfway as high as the Mount Everest.
Today, not many countries can boast of using electronic voting. Even the world's oldest democracy, the USA, often resorts to paper ballots in some states. Recall the fracas that was created in 2000 when vice-president Al Gore lost his presidential challenge to George W Bush all thanks to what was called the 'hanging chads' because the USA had used paper ballots.
Only a handful of countries resort to electronic voting. According to recent data from the non-profit National Democratic Institute in Washington DC, "a total of 14 countries now use remote Internet voting for binding political elections or referenda". Some countries that dabbled with electronic voting include Brazil, Norway, Germany, Venezuela, India, Canada, Belgium, Romania, Australia, UK, Italy, Ireland, European Union and France. The countries where electronic voting has since been discontinued include Belgium, France, Netherlands, Germany, Paraguay and Japan. It only reinforces the fact that India is a world leader in this sector.
The voting data is recorded on a simple memory chip which has a small and simple software that is burnt onto a one-time programmable microcontroller itself and each vote as it is cast is recorded directly on the chip. The machines are so robust that unless the chips themselves get destroyed the data can be recovered even if the batteries die out or even if the power is accidentally cut off.
Several layers of seals ensure that the machines are not tampered with in any manner. There is a double randomisation process which makes it impossible for any person to know which machine will be used in what constituency. This is done to ensure that machines are not pre-programmed to cast ballots in favour of a particular candidate. Even the final placement of the list of the candidates on the balloting unit is not known until the last day of withdrawal of the nomination, so tampering with the machines becomes a virtually impossible task.
On counting day, the machines are removed from the strong room where they are kept under round-the-clock guard and the votes polled are displayed sequentially in the presence of party observers. The counting is done rapidly, and within hours, the results of the elections are declared. Back in the day when paper ballots were being used, days and weeks would pass before the election results are finally declared.
The first EVMs were used in Kerala in 1982, and since 2004, all parliamentary elections have witnessed one hundred percent electronic voting. VVPAT machines were attached to all EVMs for the first time this year, so that citizens could visually verify who they voted for.
According to the ECI, "EVMs reduce the time taken for both casting votes and declaring results as compared to the old paper ballot system. Bogus voting & booth capturing can be greatly reduced and illiterate people find EVMs easier to use." Transporting and storing these machines is also much easier. In addition, there are no invalid votes and booth capturing has become a thing of the past thanks to EVMs.
The last time paper ballots were used in the 1999 polls, around 7-8 thousand tonnes of paper were required just to print the ballots - which is the equivalent of cutting down some 120,000 full-grown trees. EVMs, on the other hand, are greener and can be used repeatedly. The greatest festival of democracy on Earth owes a lot to this nifty Indian technology for ensuring free-and-fair elections.
"EVMs help empower 1.3 billion people of India, which is the world's largest democracy. Now, after 613 million voters used it and raised no questions on its credibility, we should look forward and celebrate the invention. India innovates and India wins," said Dr Moona.