April 17, 2024


Should there be 100% verification of VVPAT slips?

(Image credit: ECI, GoI, GODL-India, via Wikimedia Commons)

One of the scariest things one can imagine is waking up and finding out an election was rigged. Perhaps the machinery that was used was somehow tampered with or was faulty. For any democracy, that’s a nightmare scenario. For the world’s largest, doubly so.

India’s election system has come a long way, from paper ballots to electronic voting. That doesn’t mean people’s doubts have disappeared. In fact, in some ways, they’ve only increased with a certain amount of distrust of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). The Opposition has demanded a 100% VVPAT audit to ensure there’s no funny business. Should this be necessary, or is it overkill?


The history of EVMs dates back to 1977, with a prototype developed by the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL). In 1982, following consensus, the Election Commission of India (ECI) allowed EVMs to be used on a pilot basis. Once a demonstration of the prototype was done, the government formed the Electoral Reforms Committee (ERC) in 1990, which recommended a team of technical experts examine the EVMs.

That same year, the committee unanimously deemed them technically sound and recommended their use. It wasn’t until 1998 that they would be used in 16 legislative assembly constituencies in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Delhi. In 1999, EVMs became more widely used and expanded to 46 assembly constituencies.

Many still wanted further improvements made to the EVMs. So, in 2003, the 1961 Conduct of Election Rules was amended to introduce the VVPAT. It was first used in the by-election of the Noksen assembly constituency in Nagaland.

Now, here’s the basic outlay of the voting process as is. An EVM consists of multiple parts – a ballot unit, a control unit, and a VVPAT. The VVPAT machine is attached to the ballot unit. It provides a visual verification of the vote cast by printing a slip of paper with the voter’s choice. That slip has the candidate’s name, party symbol, and serial number. After someone has cast their vote, this slip is displayed in the machine behind a glass window, giving the voter a few seconds to verify their vote. It then falls into a compartment underneath.

In 2018, the ECI asked the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) to come up with a mathematically sound and statistically robust sample size for an internal audit of VVPAT slips. Since 2019, VVPAT slips from five random polling stations in each constituency are checked to see if they match the EVM count.

Now, several activists and the Opposition want a 100% verification of VVPAT slips, not randomised. It’s the same demand that multiple legal challenges of VVPATs called for. From their point of view, it would uphold the sanctity of free and fair elections. The ECI, on the other hand, is reluctant.

VIEW: No harm in checking it all

Better safe than sorry. Also, it’s important to separate the conspiracy theories from the need to ensure that democracy isn’t being undermined in any way. There needs to be unanimity among all parties that the EVMs and the VVPATs match up and are credible. If doubts have been sowed, then obviously a rigorous counting would help eliminate them. Even so, there’s no harm in verifying the VVPATs, even if it’s just to shut down the sceptics. That’ll at least mean everyone will be satisfied.

The ECI hasn’t exactly been forthcoming on this issue. That’s part of the reason why some are sceptical. It needs to be more proactive to allay fears of tampering beyond just VVPAT verification. Compared to publically available information, the ECI’s claims about the design and functioning of EVMs and VVPATs raise more questions. To get a little granular for a moment, there’s no reference to the term VVPAT in the amendments to the 1961 Conduct of Election Rules introduced in 2013.

You could say this issue is one of semantics. Even so, it’s important. The term “verifiable” refers to the potential of the machine to show a slip recording the details – candidate, serial number, and party symbol. That slip is never again seen by the voter. That slip can’t be counted as the “vote”. There’s little known about the machinery being used since Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), one of the manufacturers contracted, isn’t forthcoming.

COUNTERVIEW: It’s overkill

The point of introducing EVMs and later VVPATs was to instil greater confidence in the voting process. Years ago, even the Supreme Court took notice of people’s worries and ordered a five-fold increase in randomised checking. The ECI obliged. The bottom line is that, till now, there haven’t been any verifiable discrepancies in EVM and VVPAT data. Despite pronouncements about EVM hacking and tampering, that hasn’t happened.

The EVMs used aren’t networked. One can’t hack into all the machines through a network. You’ll have to individually reprogram each machine if you want to mess with vote tallies. Needless to say, that would take a lot of manpower and collusion among officials. In 2019, when the ECI did undertake its randomised sampling of VVPATs, across the general and Assembly elections, any mismatch found was miniscule. They were also due to trivial errors like non-deletion of mock polls before voting began.

A 100% verification would be logistically impossible and time-consuming. According to the ECI, it takes about an hour for election officers to match VVAPT slips with the EVM count in a single polling station. The counting of the slips can only start after EVM votes for a station have been tabulated for 5 stations. That would mean a five-hour delay in total. The ECI would also need to significantly increase the number of election officers.

Reference Links:

  • Why VVPAT was brought in, why Opposition wants all slips verified – The Indian Express
  • What are VVPATs, how do they work and why is Opposition demanding more machines in Lok Sabha polls? – The Economic Times
  • EVMs and VVPATs: Why Suspicions Persist, and Won’t Subside Yet – The Wire
  • Why Election Commission’s FAQs on EVM-VVPATs Don’t Clear Cloud of Suspicion Over Electoral Process – The Wire
  • EC dismisses Jairam Ramesh’s concerns on VVPATs, asserts full faith in EVMs – Business Standard
  • Ballot Paper to Voting Machine, How EVMs have Made Indelible Mark on Elections; Why VVPATs were Introduced – News18

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

a) There should be 100% verification of VVPAT slips.

b) There needn’t be 100% verification of VVPAT slips.


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