Saturday, September 20, 2014

Totaliser to protect essence of Secret Ballot

The disclosure of EVM-wise pattern of voting has become a cause for concern in recent times with increasing incidents of targeted post poll intimidation and victimization of voters. In this context, the Supreme Court, only last Wednesday, questioned the Centre as to why it had “slept over” the Election Commission’s five-year-old suggestion to amend the law to stop revealing EVM-wise votes garnered by candidates in an election.
In the days when paper ballot was used, the ballot papers for a polling station would get mixed and then counted, making ward-wise [mostly an EVM per ward in Sikkim] calculation of votes impossible. This changed with EVMs which are individually counted revealing voting patterns [at the smallest voting unit of a ward] in such clear detail that it makes the secret ballot concept redundant and makes it possible to single out opposition supporters for “sidelining”.
This has been a worry in Sikkim, but is not limited to the State and has grown as a concern at the national level as well. Now, a bench comprising of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice NV Ramana has allowed a PIL filed by advocate Yogesh Gupta, who had cited the alleged threat by Maharashtra deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar to cut off water and electricity supply to a Baramati village if the residents did not vote for his cousin and sitting NCP MP Supriya Sule.
The potential for mischief by politicians had made the bench seek answers from the EC on not making the vote count of every EVM machine public. The bench even recalled the good old days when ballot papers from all booths were mixed before counting.
As per the EC’s suggestion, a new machine called ‘Totaliser’ will enhance secrecy in voting and the mixing of votes at the time of counting will be achieved, which will prevent the disclosure of pattern of voting at a particular polling station.
The EC had prepared the proposal in 21 November 2008 and was referred to a Parliamentary Committee in 2009. The proposal seeks amendment of the Rules to provide for the use of totaliser for counting of votes at EVM elections.
The EC believes that by using the totaliser, it would be possible to take out the results of votes polled in a group of 14 EVMs together as against the present practice of counting votes polling station/ ward-wise. In such a system of counting, the trend of voting in individual polling station areas would not be known. This will prevent intimidation and post election victimization of electors.
The present system of counting is particularly troublesome for the voters of Sikkim because except for some, a majority of the polling stations have less than thousand voters.
“Our ward has just over 400 voters and there have been instances in the past when some voters were victimized for not voting for a particular party by having their names cut off from the list of beneficiaries of government schemes,” said Sunil Sundas, a voter from Martam Rumtek constituency.
Another voter from Upper Burtuk says, “The number of voters is very low in the villages and when EVM counts are revealed individually, it becomes easy to work out who voted for whom and they can be easily victimized”.
While the voters voice concerns, those belonging to political parties are supportive of the present system.
“This system enables us to understand voting behaviour of public of a particular area. This technology gives us statistics which are important to understand and prepare for future elections,” said a member of a regional political party.
Similarly, in August, the Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in his written reply had said that the government has “not taken a considered view” on introduction of the machine [Totaliser]. “Secrecy of votes being the essence of India democracy will certainly be ascertained before introduction of any technological advancement in the voting or counting,” he said.
A college going young voter in Gangtok brings a new attitude to the debate when he says, “Gone are the days when threatening yielded more votes. People today are more informed and aware about their rights. A smart politician would never force anyone to vote for them in the first place. Even after defeat/win, the sensible thing to do is to persuade voters who didn’t vote in their favour, by working for their good. This will ensure victory next time.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has directed the competent authority of the Union of India to file its response so that the steps taken by the government can be made clear to the EC and accordingly, if required, appropriate steps can be taken.

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