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Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) Machines


Recently, the Supreme Court announced that it would soon address petitions for 100% verification of Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips, just ahead of the first phase of voting on 19th April 2024.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of Article:

  1. Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) Machines:
  2. Challenges with VVPAT machines
  3. How has the Performance of EVMs been?

Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) Machines:

  • VVPAT is an independent verification printer that is attached to electronic voting machines (EVMs).
  • Its purpose is to allow voters to verify that their votes have been recorded accurately.
  • As soon as a voter presses the button on the EVM, the VVPAT machine prints a slip containing the name and symbol of the party they voted for, which is visible to the voter for around 7 seconds.
  • VVPAT Machines were first introduced in India during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to increase transparency and eliminate doubts about the accuracy of EVMs.
  • Only polling officers have access to the VVPAT machines.
  • According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), EVMs and VVPATs are separate entities and are not connected to any network.

Challenges with VVPAT machines:

Technical malfunctions:

  • Possibility of technical malfunctions is a primary concern with VVPAT machines.
  • Malfunctions can result in inaccurate printing or no printing of the paper receipt of the vote cast by the voter.

Verification of paper trails:

  • Verification of paper trails generated by the VVPAT machines is another challenge.
  • It is not always clear how this record can be verified, especially in cases of discrepancies between electronic and paper records.

Public confidence:

  • Recent reports of defective VVPAT machines have eroded public confidence in the electoral process.
  • Lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the EC has raised questions about the fairness and accuracy of elections.

Legal mandate:

  • The Supreme Court in Dr. Subramanian Swamy v ECI (2013) held that VVPAT is an “indispensable requirement of free and fair elections”.

Arguments Raised:

  • Some argue that enhancing transparency could be achieved by maintaining a machine audit trail documenting all executed commands within the system, extending beyond the recorded votes in the EVM’s ballot unit and the printed slips in the VVPATs. This would enable an audit to eliminate any potential presence of malicious code.
  • Indeed, incorporating such measures could enhance the system’s resilience and be regarded as an improvement to the existing machines.
  • On the other hand, some argue that the introduction of VVPATs has introduced potential vulnerabilities that were absent in the standalone nature of EVMs, along with the technical and administrative safeguards that supported the previous system.
  • Addressing this concern would entail revising the safeguards to ensure that VVPAT-combined systems are as secure and dependable as standalone EVMs were.
  • However, many find the criticism from various quarters, including political parties such as the Congress, advocating for a 100% recount of all VVPATs instead of the current sampling method, incomprehensible.
  • They argue that only a comprehensive recount would ensure complete transparency. Consequently, the Supreme Court of India has scheduled a series of hearings regarding this demand.

How has the Performance of EVMs been?

  • Despite dire warnings regarding malpractices and EVM hacking, there has been no concrete evidence of any actual tampering with EVMs thus far.
  • While EVMs, like any machinery, have experienced glitches and have been promptly replaced in case of malfunctions, the assertion that they are susceptible to hacking or manipulation, despite the presence of existing technical and administrative safeguards, has been made without substantiated proof.
  • Sample counting of VVPATs, conducted during both the general election in 2019 and various Assembly elections, has indicated that the discrepancy between the VVPAT recount and the EVM count has been negligible.
  • Such discrepancies often stem from minor errors such as failure to delete mock polls from the machine before the voting process or inaccuracies in manually recording the final count from the machine.

-Source: The Hindu

May 2024