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After hours of counting votes, Pakistan has still not officially announced the results of the general election held on February 8. Pakistan President Arif Alvi held the lack of an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) responsible for this unusual delay. In a post on X on Saturday, Alvi said, “Had EVMs been there today, my dear beloved Pakistan would have been spared this crisis (of poll result delay).”

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“EVM had paper ballots that could be counted separately by hand (like it is being done today) BUT it also had a simple electronic calculator/counter of each vote button pressed. Totals of every candidate would have been available & printed within five minutes of the closing of the poll. The entire effort that included more than 50 meetings at the Presidency alone was scuttled,” Arif Alvi tweeted.

Moreover, there were several claims about elections being rigged in Pakistan despite the use of ballot papers for voting.

An Electronic Voting Machine or EVM is a device used to electronically record and count votes cast in elections. It consists of the Ballot Unit (BU ), Control Unit (CU) and the later added Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). The VVPAT allows voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended.

So, should Indian political leaders take note of this EVM concern flagged by Alvi? Over the years, many politicians in India have criticised the use of EVMs for polling during general and assembly elections. They have accused others of either hacking or tampering with EVMs. The debate over the use of EVMs Vs VVPAT slips Vs ballot papers has been going on in India for a long.

ALSO READ: Rigged elections in Pakistan: What’s next for the near-failed state?

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh had said last year that he has “opposed voting by EVM since 2003”. He argued that “any machine with a chip can be hacked”. He rather demanded the handover of “the VVPAT slip in voter’s hand and allow him to see that the vote has also been correctly “printed””. He had said this in response to a suggestion that “counting of 100% VVPATs” must be there. It “won’t take more than a day,” the X user had said.

Meanwhile, Samajwadi Party (SP) president Akhilesh Yadav has also pushed for the use of ballot papers instead of EVMs for voting. According to news agency PTI, Akhilesh Yadav referred to EVMs without naming it and said that “these machines” and the (poll) results have created a feeling of distrust in people’s minds.

Congress leader Manish Tewari also called for voting on paper ballots during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. He reportedly said that EVM is a machine and can be rigged and hacked.

But can EVMs be manipulated? Here’s what India’s Election Commission says

The Election Commission says that EVMs are electronic machines and like any other machine, they are also vulnerable to failures. The failed machines are sent to the factories for rectification.

ALSO READ: US says Pakistan election may be rigged, calls for probe against Pak Army: Who said what

The Election Commission adds that there is no question of any machine ‘malfunctioning’ in a way so as to favour a particular candidate, which is called tampering as per defined EVM protocol. “This scenario is just not possible with the many safeguards incorporated in the design of EVM itself,” the poll body says.

It further says, “There is no wastage of any vote in EVMs.”

The Election Commission also provides a clarification on whether “there any provision for a Voter to lodge a complaint if the paper slip generated by VVPAT shows the name or symbol of a candidate other than the one he voted for“.

It says that as per the provisions of Rule 49MA of Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, the Presiding Officer obtains a written declaration from the voter as to the allegation, after informing the elector about the consequence of making a false declaration as per the Indian Penal Code.

“If the elector gives the written declaration referred to in sub-rule (1) of Rule 49MA, the Presiding Officer permits the elector to record a test vote in the voting machine in his/her presence and in the presence of the candidates or polling agents who may be present in the polling station, and observe the paper slip generated by the printer,” the EC says.

“If the allegation is found true, the Presiding Officer will report the facts immediately to the Returning Officer, stop further recording of votes in that voting machine and act as per the directions that may be given by the Returning Officer,” it adds.

And if the allegation is found to be false and the paper slip so generated under sub-rule (1) matches with the test vote recorded by the elector under sub-rule (2), then, the Presiding Officer shall “make a remark to that effect against the second entry relating to that elector in Form 17A, Rule 49L”.

He then must mention the serial number and name of the candidate for whom such test vote has been recorded; Obtain the signature or thumb impression of that elector against such remarks; and make necessary entries regarding such test vote in item 5 in Part I of Form 17C.

What experts have said

EVM experts told the Wire that while EVMs cannot be hacked, because they are not connected to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or the Internet, they can be easily manipulated. Madhav Deshpande, a former CEO of Tulip Software, said in an interview in January this year that there are “holes and gaps in the system” as EVMs are “relying on an old technology”.

ALSO READ: EVMs may be under a cloud in India but more than 20 nations use them

However, the Election Commission of India (ECI) had earlier assured the Supreme Court that EVMs can neither be hacked nor tampered with. In an affidavit spanning over 450 pages, the EC had said EVMs are “totally stand-alone machines having one-time programmable chips”.

In 2017, the then Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi had said, “…our machines are tamper-proof, if you change the internal circuit of our machines, then they aren’t our machines…”

Besides, the Times of India had cited a report by a committee of experts formed by the poll panel as saying that tampering is only possible with physical access and the elaborate sealing process of EVMs done by by the ECI prevents this from happening.

Upsides of EVM

A research paper showed that the switch to electronic voting in India almost eliminated invalid votes: “This result stems directly from the design of the machine: Indian EVMs, with their finite menu of buttons, make it almost impossible to cast an invalid ballot,” a researcher had said.

Moreover, another recent research paper suggested the introduction of EVMs not only helped reduce election fraud but also helped improve development outcomes by empowering poor and marginal voters. Tap here to read the use of EVMs in details

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