July 10, 2024


Should the totaliser be introduced in Indian elections?

(Image credit: Election Commission of IndiaGODL-India, via Wikimedia Commons)

We just went through a historical election where millions cast their votes. As polling was underway, a topic of debate was the security of those votes. Plenty of questions were being asked of the Election Commission of India (ECI). How secure are the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs)? Why isn’t the ECI being more transparent about the EVMs?

The concept of secrecy/anonymity in the voting process is crucial. Parties and candidates shouldn’t know which citizens did or didn’t vote for them. That’s where this tool called a “totaliser” comes in. It’s a tool to ensure more security at the booth level. They’re not used currently in the EVMs, but there are calls for their inclusion.


In 1982, Paravur in Kerala caught national attention. It was heading into the Assembly elections with something new for voters. The ECI chose this place to conduct its trial for EVMs in 50 out of the 123 booths. The Congress candidate, AC Jose, was defeated by 123 votes. He challenged the decision in the Kerala High Court. After the high court’s dismissal, he went to the Supreme Court, which ordered a repoll in the 50 booths using conventional paper ballots. Jose won the seat.

The controversy aside, this experiment would change the way voting was done. EVMs were pitched to scale up election infrastructure and make it more secure. The technology could simplify the electoral exercise and eliminate tampering and manipulation.

The tides changed against paper ballots because there was a need for convenience. Printing millions of ballots, transporting, safely storing them, and then physically counting all of them was laborious and tedious. But there was a bigger concern. In the early 1960s, the issue of “booth capturing” cropped up. Politicians or others would forcibly cast votes in favour of particular candidates.

While EVMs began to be used decades later, the technology was still new for Indians. There were some obvious questions that people had – is my vote actually being recorded? Would someone know who I voted for? While it’s not possible to find out which person voted for whom, it might be possible to know the voting pattern of a locality.

When the ballot box system was in use, the ECI could invoke Article 59A of the election rules and order the mandatory mixing up or jumbling up of ballots in some booths to make it impossible to know which locality voted for whom. With the EVMs, what could be done?

The ECI had an answer – a totaliser. After consulting EVM manufacturers, it wrote to the law ministry in 2008 asking for amendments to the rules to introduce totalisers. A totaliser is a mechanism that allows votes from a certain number of booths to be counted together so that outside forces can’t find out voting patterns.

While the 2024 elections didn’t use the totaliser, should it become a mainstay going forward?

VIEW: It’s necessary

Over a decade back, the ECI was in favour of a totaliser. When the law ministry got the ECI’s 2008 letter, it was sent to a parliamentary committee that hadn’t decided on the issue for several years. Political parties always want to know booth-wise and locality-wise results, and that’s why totalisers weren’t immediately adopted. In 2014, the ECI reminded the law ministry of the necessity of protecting the identity of groups of voters. Even the Supreme Court wanted to know why the ministry was dragging its feet.

The ECI’s point of protecting groups of voters should be the impetus. Parties spend lots of money to employ hundreds of workers to closely observe voting booths in several constituencies. Part of their job is to know voters and “deliver votes”. Once votes are cast, workers can analyse booth-level data against the voters’ list to see how many didn’t vote for their candidate. One can imagine this happening in places defined by caste or religion with vulnerable populations and them being harassed.

The 2014 Lok Sabha campaign of Ajit Pawar is a good example of why a totaliser is needed. He threatened to cut off water supply to a village in Baramati if it didn’t vote for his cousin Supriya Sule. Following his threat, the first petition was filed in the Supreme Court to stop the release of booth-level results and implement a cluster system. The Law Commission in 2015 backed the introduction of the totaliser. So did many civil servants, advocates, activists, and political parties.

COUNTERVIEW: Needs more time

The ECI has, time and again, vouched for the effectiveness of the current EVMs, despite pressure from opposition parties and leaders. They’ve made the electoral voting process a lot more secure and efficient. Booth-wise results are vital data for parties and important for booth management. This was the view of a Commission formed several years ago to study whether a totaliser was needed. According to the Commission, there was no consensus.

While the ECI previously didn’t feel it was that important for parties to know how many people voted for it in each polling booth, the Centre disagreed and continues to. For candidates and parties, this data would help them strategise and find out areas where they need to improve, whether by deploying more resources or bringing in developmental activities to better their performance.

While the ECI favoured a totaliser before, that’s not the case now. In a March press conference, the ECI said this technology was ready but it wasn’t the right time to implement it. The rationale was for the political system to first mature. Given all the questions that were asked of the ECI, its transparency and autonomy, and the effectiveness of the EVMs, the election body made a prudent call.

Reference Links:

  • Can Political Parties Identify Who We Voted For? – The Wire
  • Totaliser technology ready but time to implement idea not come yet, says CEC – Moneycontrol
  • Why Kapil Sibal Thinks Electoral Reforms, EVM ‘Totalisers’ Are Necessities – The Wire
  • All Parties Oppose ‘Totaliser’ In EVMs, Centre Tells Supreme Court – NDTV
  • Election Commission wants to use ‘Totaliser’ to enhance vote secrecy – The Economic Times
  • Elections: Why is the BJP opposed to the ‘Totaliser’ machine? – National Herald

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The totaliser should be introduced in Indian elections.

b) The totaliser shouldn’t be introduced in Indian elections.


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For the Left:

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