Shahroz Afridi | Nov 27, 2018 | 6 min read
Another jittery start to a crucial poll: Voters return after waiting for hours, Kamal Nath calls for repoll in Cong strongholds, CEO too waits for repairs
Bhopal: The Election Commission of India has been deploying Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in elections since 1999 when it was first used statewide in elections to Goa Assembly. Two decades down, every voting day in the country still begins with widely reported complaints of malfunctioning EVMs which leads to loss of crucial voting hours.
On Wednesday as well, as the excited lot of early electors in Madhya Pradesh reached their respective polling booths, not everyone had a smooth run at voting. Videos appeared from several booths showing voters waiting for Election Commission officials to fix the snags in EVMs and VVPAT machines. Chief Electoral Officer for MP, V L Kantha Rao, got a first hand experience of the persistent trouble with electronic voting apparatus when he had to wait for half an hour before casting his vote at the Char Imli VVIP polling booth in Bhopal.
While widespread failure of EVM units during mockpoll delayed the start of voting process in many constituencies by half an hour to two hours, a proportional number of technical snags were reported while voting was in process until 3pm. Addressing media persons at 3pm, CEO Rao said that a total of 1,545 of VVPAT units, 563 Ballot Units and 583 Control Units were replaced until 3pm, including the 732 VVPAT units, 352 BUs and 369 CUs that had to be replaced during mockpolls.
Satna district, where 20 percent EVM units had to be replaced, was the worst affected, said Rao, adding that extra units had to be brought in from neighbouring district Rewa when Satna ran out of stock. Hundreds of voters returned to their homes in the district after waiting over an hour.
The state has recorded 50 percent voting till 3pm, and Rao claimed the final turnout was expected to touch the target figure of 80 percent.
The areas that reported technical snags in EVMs included Mandla, Betul, Harda, Indore, Bhopal and Satna, among other constituencies. While EC officials at polling booth 42 in Rampur Baghelan, Satna, were waiting for new machines to arrive as allotted EVMs malfunctioned, the voters had started to return without casting their votes after having waited for hours. At several places, even the replaced machine did not function properly, and had to be replaced yet again.
While polling could start only after a delay of two to three hours at several polling booths, like the Tilak Nagar booth in Indore-5 AC where first vote was cast at 10.54am, at several other booths it had to be halted after a glitch was reported, for instance at booth no 96 in Harda where crucial 40 minutes were lost to a technical snag. Voting process had to be halted due to EVM glitches in at least 26 booths across Bhopal, according to reports till 1pm.
Videos from the Pusali village in Betul AC showed voters squatted on the ground around the polling booth as they waited for polling to resume. “We have been waiting for two hours but the machine is not working,” said one irate male voter upon noticing a mobile camera approaching him.
Congress call for 'repoll'
State Congress president Kamal Nath alleged that the voting seemed to be getting affected in areas which were Congress stronghold and suggested the poll panel must consider re-polling in constituencies where fair practice was questionable. His party colleague and Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia wrote to the Chief Election Commissioner seeking an extension of polling time at the booths where voting hours were lost due to EVM and VVPAT malfunctioning. CEC O P Rawat responded saying that it was up to the local officers to take a call on extending polling time.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh tweeted that EVM malfunctioning was being reported from polling booths that had a favourable mood towards Congress. He advised Congress polling agents to note down the number of the changed machines and check the machine by casting 50-100 votes as mock poll.
Congress candidate from Bhopal Madhya, Arif Masood filed a written complaint with the EC stating that voting begun late by at least two hours at more than two dozen polling booths in his constituency and urged the EC to give additional time to voters.
Many women voters left polling booth 159 in Burhanpur without casting their vote as the process was halted for about one and a half hours despite the Collector and the SP reaching the spot to resolve the issue.
Political analyst C K Naidu said that EVMs developing faults on polling day might have a direct impact on voting percent as lot of voters return back after waiting for hours. Reports came from Bhind that voters had created ruckus after waiting in queue for a long time.
“The election commission should also be questioned as to what preparations were done after large scale reporting of EVM faults in by-election in Uttar Pradesh,” said Naidu.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been reportedly leading a pack of opposition parties that have sought from the EC a reversal to ballot paper voting instead of EVMs for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Several petitions have been filed by political parties at various courts, including the Supreme Court, against the possibility of tampering of EVMs. Responding to these petitions, the EC on its website says that the credibility, reliability and robustness of EVMs has been validated by various High Courts in all the cases after detailed analysis of various aspects of technological security and administrative safeguards around use of EVMs. In response to a FAQ about EVMs that go “out of order”, the EC says: “If an EVM of a particular polling station goes out of order, the same is replaced with a new one. The votes recorded until the stage when the EVM went out of order remains safe in the memory of the Control Unit and it is perfectly fine to proceed with the polling after replacing the EVM with new EVM and there is no need to start the poll from the beginning. On counting day, votes recorded in both Control Units are counted to give the aggregate result of that polling station.” The EVMs have been devised and designed by the technical experts committee of the ECI in collaboration with Bharat Electronic Limited, Bangalore and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd, Hyderabad, the two public sector undertakings that manufacture the device.
-With inputs from Shahroz Afridi
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