06, May 2019
Ever since they were first brought into play, EVMs have always attracted suspicion from different quarters. From fears of hacking to the possibility of malfunction, EVMs have remained controversial despite the Election Commission’s assurances.
The ECI has in place certain ground rules about the transfer, storage, testing and use of the controversial devices.
The EVMs and WPATs should be stored:
– In Treasury, wherever Possible
– At District Head Quarters
– Under exceptional circumstances, with reasons recorded in writing by District Election Officer (DEO) at Warehouse other than District HQ but not below Tehsil HQs
As per a communication dated November 13, 2018, from the Secretary of the ECI to Chief Electoral Officers of all States and Union Territories, “entry of EVMs/WPATs Storage/warehouse must be secured by a double lock system, which should be held jointly by two officers, to be nominated by the DEO. One of whom shall not be below the rank of Tehsildar- For all Warehouses at district Head Quarter, there shall be a double lock system and the keys shall be in custody of DEO and Dy. DEO (each having one key).”
The ECI also lays down the following guidelines as to the storage of EVMs and VVPAT machines after polling is over till such time that counting begins, and then after counting is over.
During non-election period (After Election Petition Period to FLC/Before 1st randomisation)
- a) For EVM Warehouses Room at District Head Quarters, there shall be a double-lock system (two locks- Lock-1 and Lock-2), which should be held jointly by DEO and Dy. DEO, and all the keys of Lock-1 shall be in custody of DEO and all the keys of Lock-2 shall be in the custody of Dy. DEO. Handing over and taking over of keys to be a part of CTC. The keys shall be deposited by each officer in the Treasury and proper logbook shall be maintained during depositing in and taken out the keys after following due procedure.
- b) Other EVM Warehouse outside the District Head Quarters must also be secured by a double-lock system (two locks-lock-l and lock-2), managed by two separate officers, duly nominated by the DEO, one of whom shall not be below the rank of Dy. Collector /SDM and second not below the rank of Tehsildar. All the keys of Lock-1 shall be in custody of one officer and all the keys of Lock-2 with other officer, and the warehouse shall necessarily be opened in presence of these two designated officers after following all prescribed protocols. Also, prior written approval of DEO shall be obtained before opening the warehouse.
After 1st Randomisation (upto counting of votes is over)
During the counting period till such time as counting concludes, AC-wise EVMs and VVPATs are allocated and shifted to AC-wise Strong Room. For AC-wise Strong Room, there must be a double-lock system. All the keys of one lock shall be kept in custody of RO (for Assembly segment) and all the keys of other lock shall be kept by the ARO or any other officer, duly nominated by the DEO but not below the rank of Tehsildar. The DEO shall remain over all in-charge of the safe custody of EVMs and VVPATs.
After the counting is over, the EVMs/VVPATs shall be kept in the AC-wise Strong Room under double lock system and the keys shall be kept in the custody of DEO and Dy. DEO till the period of Election Petition is over.
Recent Instances of Discrepancies:
However, despite these detailed regulations there have been instances of EVMs and VVPAT machines being transported, handled and stored in a manner that contravenes the set provisions.
For instance, during the 2019 general election, early voting in Assam was marred by instances of EVM malfunction in several polling stations in Jorhat, Kokrajhar and Dhubri constituencies. There was also the very curious EVM at Tezpur that registered a vote for the BJP irrespective of what option was chosen! There were also allegations of EVMs being illegally stored in the custody of unauthorised persons in Amingaon area in Assam. This has led to INC to file a formal complaint.
There were also reports coming in from Moradabad in UP and Kasargod in Kerala. This led many to wonder if they had been tampered with. However, penal provisions under Rule 49MA of the Conduct of Election (Amendment) Rules 2013, may have proved to be a deterrent for formal complaints.
Interestingly, the ECI says that EVMs cannot be tampered with as they are not networked. However, in the absence of robust testing mechanisms in line with international best practices, and recurring instances of mismatches between option selected and VVPAT reading, compounded with penal provisions for complainants, does lead one to wonder if all this smoke is without any fire.