It must also be explored whether it would be possible to reinstate the absolute confidentiality of polls in the age of machine voting.
The 2019 general election is entering the home stretch and the results are due in 10 days’ time. The less than perfect functioning of EVMs has been a recurring theme so far, leading to delays and long queues in very hot weather. The partisan nature of the Election Commission has been assailed by different political parties, except the ruling BJP. The perfunctory use of VVPAT has been a major debating point, which might just lead on to how the Indian voting system, based on the standalone voting machine, could be bettered to take it nearer greater acceptance by all parties. The issue of abandoning the totaliser system, whereby voting trends in individual booths were masked by mixing the old paper ballots from various booths in bundles of 50 before counting them constituency-wise rather than booth-wise, is also worth considering.
It must also be explored whether it would be possible to reinstate the absolute confidentiality of polls in the age of machine voting. Would all parties sink their differences and agree to each EVM carrying a verifiable paper trail leading to a more elaborate counting process? Paper ballots gave way to machine-readable paper ballots with optical mark recognition in some parts of the United States. It is argued that this technology, with a basic paper ballot, is superior to the EVMs with VVPAT, in which the vote is stored electronically. Of course, the Florida vote in the George W. Bush versus Al Gore presidential election in 2000 is often stated as a warning of how such a system can also lead to complications. The current system must improve at least to a compulsory EVM with VVPAT, or switch to paper ballots with OMR for a polling process that is more satisfying to all.
The rulings of the election panel have come under fire to the extent the present CEC’s term has proved to be not only the most controversial but also seen to be beholden to those in power, to the extent of being charged with bias. The system is ill served if there is no confidence in the integrity of the election panel, irrespective of whether there is dissent within or not. The challenge has been enhanced with the social media making a huge play in these polls, with both major national parties and others guilty of free dissemination of disinformation. It is true the ruling party, with greater resources, has used the social media more extensively. When the EC is unable to rule in a non-partisan manner on so many aspects of behaviour of politicians, it can only be seen as helpless against the social media as a ubiquitous, no-holds barred communications platform. Elections are the very foundation of democracy. There is a clear need to make them work better. The time for reform will begin the moment the results are declared on May 23 and a new government is in place.