CEC challenges parties: ‘Hack EVMs if you can’

The Asian Age.

India, All India

AAP no longer wants to go back to paper ballots.

Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi. (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: After many parties alleged that tampering of Electronic Voting Machines had led to their defeat in the recently-held Assembly polls, the Election Commission on Friday said it would throw an “open challenge” to all political parties to try and tamper the EVMs used in the polls in five states. However, at the end of an all-party meeting held here on Friday, only four parties — BSP, Trinamul Congress, Panthers Party and PMK — stuck to their earlier  demand for a switchback to using ballot papers.

The Aam Aadmi Party, that was harping on tampering of EVMs and had even held a live demonstration recently on the subject within the precincts of the Delhi Assembly, was among the parties — along with the Congress, Left, Janata Dal (United) and others — that did not demand a reversal to ballot papers.

Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who earlier had claimed the EC had backed out of a “hackathon”, said his party had already proved EVMs can be hacked and was ready for the EC’s challenge. “Our party will prove again that EVMs can be tampered with,” he said.

Chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi told the media after the meeting that the EC would hold a challenge and invited all parties to get technocrats to examine whether EVMs can be tampered with. At the meeting, Mr Zaidi dismissed queries by some parties about the incidents of alleged EVM manipulation at Bhind and Dholpur during the recent byelections, and said baseless perceptions had been generated about these incidents and that there was no case of biased vote results.

Mr Zaidi also declared the EC had no favourites. “We maintain anequal distance from all parties and groups. It is our constitutional and moral duty to stand dead centre of the circle drawn around us by 55 political parties.”

The commission had sent invitations to seven national parties and 48 regional parties, of which only 35 regional parties attended the meet.

The poll body has, however, not yet fixed any date for the challenge. It said that in all future polls, EVMs will be enabled with 100 per cent Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), a kind of receipt of voting.

Many parties wanted the duration of visibility of the VVPAT slip to be raised from the current seven seconds to at least 20 seconds for voters to be satisfied. Many also said the paper audit should be counted separately. But the EC ruled out all VVPAT slips being counted and instead only promised to do random counting of around 25 per cent of the paper slips.

Congress leader Vivek Tankha, who represented his party at the meet, said his party wanted the EC to clear up all doubts in the people’s minds about EVMs, but did not seek a reversal to the ballot paper system of voting.

CPI(M) leader Nilotpal Basu said his party was against reverting to the ballot paper system as there was a need to move ahead with technology. “We cannot go back to where we started from,” he said.

The JD-U took the same line, saying ballot papers had led to large-scale cases of booth capturing in the past and that it was not in favour of reverting to that.

However, BSP leader Satish Mishra stuck to his party’s earlier stand at the meeting, and sought a reversal to the ballot paper system. Trinamul leader Mukul Roy also said the ballot paper system should be brought back.

The EC had also put the question of making bribery (in elections) a cognisable offence on the meeting’s agenda, but most parties were opposed to this, saying it would lead to arbitrary action as evidence would be based on oral testimony rather than hard evidence.

Several parties, including JD(U), RJD, CPI(M) and CPI, also raised the issue of electoral reforms and provision of funding that does away with disclosing names of people who give donation upto `20,000. They also demanded the state funding of polls. “For us, electoral funding is the more important issue,” CPI(M)’s Nilotpal Basu said.

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