Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam: Paper - III (General Studies – II) - 24 January 2019


Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam


UPSC Syllabus:

  • Paper-III: General Studies -II (Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations)

Q. Critically examine the role that EVMs (electronic voting machines) have played in the electoral process of India. (250 words)

Model Answer:

Approach:

  • Why in news?
  • Introduction
  • Positive role
  • Negative role
  • Conclusion

Why in news?

  • Much has been said by commentators and political party representatives about the futility of using the EVM because of the possibility of electoral fraud by manipulating the technology that drives the machine.
  • Political parties keep demanding, every now and then, that the Election Commission should replace EVMs with paper ballot.

Introduction

  • Electronic Voting Machine(EVM) is an electronic device for recording votes.
  • To address fraud and simplify the electoral procedure, the Election Commission of India (ECI) introduced electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the late 1990s. 
  • Free and fair elections to choose political representatives are a cornerstone of a democracy, and a fundamental human right of people. Voting procedures play a significant role in the conduct of free and fair elections in a democracy: These convert voters’ preferences into a political mandate, which forms the basis for policy making.

Positive role

  • EVM has served the purpose of assuring free and fair elections, and easing the process of voting. The use of EVMs had led to a significant decline in election fraud such as rigging, booth capturing, ballot stuffing, etc in many States and even resulted in increased voter turnout especially of the vulnerable (illiterates, females, scheduled castes and tribes) and poorer sections of the Indian electorate.
  • Voters were less likely to report that they did not cast their vote due to fear of violence, vote-capture or that they were prevented from voting. 
  • This shift led to an increase in the vote share of smaller political parties, increasing political competition, the researchers show.
  • The electoral process became more competitive, i.e., the share of the winning party and the margin of victory in elections declined. 
  • EVMs may affect political competitiveness reflected in the vote share of the incumbents and their chances of re-election. Findings show that overall incumbent party's vote share decreases by 8.5% after the introduction of EVMs. 
  • Improper and multiple stamps on paper ballots making the voters' choice unclear inevitably lead to dismissal of votes. Since EVMs could record only one response, the possibility of rejected votes was virtually eliminated. Indian EVMs, with their finite menu of buttons, make it almost impossible to cast an invalid ballot.
  • EVMs have largely led to deepening of democracies and helped improve development outcomes by empowering the poor and marginal voters.
  • It has made the electoral process more efficient by reducing time in counting votes and correcting voting errors.
  • It also reduced the cost of conducting elections as the ECI could avoid printing of millions of ballots. 
  • The ECI has reassured that the simplicity of the architecture of the EVM has helped it evade some of the misgivings experienced by EVMs used in other countries. Some of these features are - software written onto a one-time programmable chipstandalone machinesthat are not networked; the lack of any frequency receiver or wireless decoder that will allow for communication externally; and advancements in newly deployed machines that allow for self-diagnostics to render the machines tamper-proof among other things.
  • The ECI has asserted that unique architecture of EVMs along with administrative safeguards have made tampering impossible. Administrative safeguards include – rigorous checks at various levels, such as after manufacture, during deployment, and so on; randomization of deployment of machines, a listing of candidates in alphabetical order rather than on party basis on ballot units; sealing of machines by political party representatives after polling and storing in high security “strong-rooms”.

Negative role

  • Critics have claimed futility of using the EVM because of the possibility of electoral fraud by manipulating the technology that drives the machine. These are technically possible scenarios that assume malicious actions by vendors that are deliberately ignored by the manufacturers, “insider fraud” that remains undetected, and coordinated actions by agents who manage to shift vote counts in favour of their party using the manipulation that is possible with the tampered EVMs.
  • The fact that glitches being reported have gone up is true enough. The replacement rate for machines deployed in the by-elections of Uttar Pradesh in 2018 went up to as high as 20% because of failures — primarily of the VVPAT machine that is adjunct to the control and ballot units of the EVM.
  • The introduction of EVMs led to a 3.5% decline in voter turnout.

Conclusion

Complaints about EVMs are neither new nor unique to India. E.g. Netherlands in the mid-2000s. The VVPAT’s introduction is a welcome step necessary to address doubts related to the possibility of EVM hacking despite the safeguards in place. In sum, the best possible way of improving upon our electoral process and bringing in greater trust in it is in a continuing and constructive critique of India’s EVM through a scrutiny of the election process including technical assessments of the devices used. But there should be no place for an uninformed dismissal of the EVM as a part of the discourse as this will only increase distrust in our democratic process.

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