On October 4, at the All-party meeting convened by the Election
Commission of India (ECI), there was a consensus among all political
parties that the ECI must introduce a system of Voter Verified Paper
Trail (VVPAT). Showing some flexibility after many months of stiff
resistance, the ECI had agreed to explore implementation of the VVPAT
option in the EVMs. As promised, the ECI has referred the matter to its
Expert Committee headed by P.V. Indiresan to study the feasibility of
What is Voter verified paper trail?
Voter verified paper trail (VVPAT) refers to a system wherein a
printer attached with the voting machine produces a paper printout of
every vote cast just as an ATM produces a slip after every transaction.
The voter verifies it for its accuracy and then it is stored in a ballot
box as a separate record of votes, independent of the electronic record
stored in the EVM.
Why paper trail is needed?
Ordinary voters, political parties, security researchers, activists
etc. have expressed doubts about the reliability and integrity of
electronic voting machines in the recent months. While the ECI always
dismissed such doubts with claims of infallibility and totally
tamper-proof EVMs, the scientific evidence showed that these claims
What makes our EVMs untrustworthy is that they function as ‘black
boxes’ and have rendered the voting process non-transparent,
unverifiable and un-auditable. And, this obscurity has led to nagging
doubts among voters and parties about their reliability. There are
hardly any exceptions to this as almost all parties have expressed
doubts about the reliability of EVMs in one election or the other.
If you believe India is experiencing unique troubles, think again. It is the same story everywhere.
After spending millions of euros, many European countries, including
Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, etc., have banned electronic voting and
returned to paper ballots. In the U.S. too, most states have banned
paperless voting systems. Admittedly, India has unique needs and
situations. Thus, we need not emulate western democracies. But we should
not overlook the limitations of our non-transparent electronic voting
Even before the ECI agreed to study VVPAT feasibility, election
administrators and experts representing the Election Commission of India
have expressed many concerns regarding implementation of a VVPAT
Bribery and intimidation: They fear that a VVPAT solution may become a source for bribery and intimidation of
the voters when a voter leaves the polling station with a physical
printed ballot in his/ her hand. This can be addressed by having a VVPAT
solution in which the printed ballot becomes visible behind a glass
screen which gets dropped into a ballot box after the voter verifies it
for accuracy. Chandrababu Naidu made such a proposal and all parties
backed it at the all-party meeting. I have also elaborated on this in my
previous blog: http://www.indianevm.com/blogs/?p=501
Secrecy of the vote:
The VVPAT will compromise the secrecy of the vote. Nobody explains how.
If the voter alone verifies his/ her own vote which gets (or is)
dropped into a ballot box, how does that compromise secrecy? Is one saying that even the voter should not get to see how his/ her vote has been recorded? Isn’t that strange? Can one call such a voting procedure as secure?
Unreliability of printers is cited as a limitation. It may well be but
that would only warrant procuring better quality printers or getting
them designed as per the ECI’s requirements and keeping enough number in
reserve for replacement. This no doubt is a difficult task, but not an
confusion, disruption and delays in voting are cited as impediments in
implementing VVPAT. If bringing transparency into the voting process
entails all these challenges, let us face them and see how they can be
The cost involved in implementing VVPAT is cited as a major factor. Cost
involved is well worth it, given that there is nothing more valuable
than a well-preserved democracy. It would be specious to argue that we
cannot afford the costs involved for holding trustworthy elections which
is barely a small fraction of one Lakh crores reportedly splurged on
hosting Commonwealth games extravagantly.
Another common argument is: why have voting machines at all if you need
to print every vote? The need for a physical record is to ensure
transparency for the voters and verifiability for the candidates. VVPAT
solution allows the efficiency of use of voting machines (for example,
faster counts) and provides the much needed transparency to make
Elections must not only be fair, but must be seen to be fair by all.
On this trust lies the edifice of our democracy. Paperless electronic
voting, currently in vogue has inherent limitations in offering such
The choice before the ECI is not whether the paper trail is feasible or not. The real question is how to make Indian elections transparent and verifiable.
In my opinion, that ought to have been the terms of reference for the
Expert Committee examining the “feasibility” of introducing voter
verified paper audit trail.
Making VVPAT work is no doubt a challenge but we must make it work if
India must continue with electronic voting. Undertaking pilot projects,
as the BJP suggested at the all-party meeting, before its nationwide
implementation is a way to understand challenges and overcome them with
I can be contacted at nrao@indianEVM.com