Growing apprehensions that Electronic Voting Machines can be rigged have led Opposition parties to intensify their efforts to convince the Election Commission to either revert to paper ballots during elections or ensure that all electronic votes are tallied using voter-verified paper audit trail slips.

These efforts are also being seen as an attempt by Opposition parties to convert the misgivings regarding Electronic Voting Machines or EVMs to the focal point for Opposition unity.

The first of these efforts will be visible in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday when state leaders of several parties that are not part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance will meet to discuss ways to convince the Election Commission to abandon EVM-based polling in favour of paper ballots.

Called by the Samajwadi Party at the behest of its president Akhilesh Yadav, the meeting will be held at the office of the Janeshwar Mishra Trust in Lucknow. Samajwadi Party’s state president Naresh Uttam has sent invitations to all non-NDA parties, including the Bahujan Samaj Party, Congress, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Except for the Bahujan Samaj Party, all parties have confirmed their participation for Saturday’s meeting.

A senior Bahujan Samaj Party leader said that party president Mayawati has been regularly raising the question of EVM tampering and even if the party does not attend Saturday’s meeting, she is likely to join the issue sooner or later.

(Photo credit: Sanjay Kanojia).

EVMs vs ballot papers

In July, the Election Commission announced that it planned to tally results of voter-verified paper audit trail slips and EVMs in all Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. However, this will be restricted to only 5% of polling booths in each seat.

In the recently held Assembly polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the poll body tallied the voter-verified paper audit trail slips in only one polling booth in each constituency. Though the Election Commission has said that there was no mismatch between the votes cast through EVMs and the paper trail in the two states, Opposition parties have not ceased to allege that the EVMs were rigged to favour the BJP.

The chorus in favour of using ballot papers during elections has grown so loud that even the Congress, which has so far been cautious about taking a public stand on the issue, plans to convene a meeting of Opposition parties after the end of the Winter Session of Parliament. The aim of this meeting is to discuss ways to build a consensus among parties to put pressure on the Election Commission to count all voter-verified paper audit trail slips across constituencies from the Assembly elections in Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, due in February.

Though a date for the proposed meeting has not been fixed, Congress insiders expect it to take place soon after Saturday’s meeting.

The Congress government in Karnataka, where Assembly polls are due in April or May, has also sent an official request to the Election Commission asking for 250 Electronic Voting Machines to conduct a hackathon to check them for errors and “restore the people’s faith in the democratic process”. The state government has also sought the design documents, test descriptions and results, and security procedures used by the Election Commission to test EVMs.