VVPAT: A solution to India's election process or a problem in itself?
By Eetika Kapoor
In a revolutionary move passed by the Supreme Court of India in 2013, the introduction of the Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) along with the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) was deemed necessary and indispensable for elections. Initially introduced in the constituent assembly of Nagaland in 2003, the aim was to induce transparency, prevent malpractices and bring security to the voting system in India. Eight out of the 543 constituencies in India have been officially sanctioned for the use of the VVPAT machine along with the EVM. In the 2017 Goa elections, the entire state used the VVPAT machine.
What is VVPAT ?
The Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail is a process where the voter gets immediate confirmation of the vote that they have cast on a piece of paper which is not allowed to be taken home. VVPAT printers are attached with the EVM to ensure that the voter is able to "verify and confirm the vote" that has been cast. The collected ballots would then be submitted to the Election Commission which in turn would be required to do a recount of the votes cast if there is any discrepancy. The pilot trial of the VVPAT was introduced in the February 2017 Punjab elections.
The VVPAT operates under a Direct Recording Election system (DRE) which detects fraud and existent malfunctions. The non-document ballot voting system solely "stores votes", but whether the stored vote belongs to the voter is non-verifiable. Thus the need for the VVPAT has been undeniable but will the introduction be sufficient?
Is the VVPAT foolproof?
The Supreme Court has ignored some key shortcomings in the application of the VVPAT printer since the introduction of malware in the VVPAT could lead to unreliable results. A research conducted in Georgia suggests that a considerable amount of voters do not even verify their vote as the verification is voluntary and not necessary. In case the voter does detect a discrepancy, they have to go through the arduous process of casting the vote again which can compromise the secrecy of the vote. The VVPAT is also prone to malfunctions, a few being paper jamming, running out of battery and unavailability of ink and electricity, which is true for the elections cast in rural areas of India.
Even the stored ballot paper or the audit can be tampered with as the VVPAT does not offer any solution to differentiate between a legitimate and fraudulent ballot. Observing the pattern of the paper audit of the voter can lead to "ballot stuffing." There are inherent storage concerns too since the ballot paper is printed on thermal paper whose print fades with time.
The way forward
Is India ready for VVPAT? This has no easy answer. After observing the intricacies of the VVPAT, security concerns have been raised by the likes of Arvind Kejriwal. The introduction of VVPAT is necessary because it leads to the betterment of the election process, although it cannot guarantee a fair election. In a country where 1.3 million EVMs are not VVPAT equipped, it would take time before the technical kinks have been ironed out.
VVPAT is not foolproof but it gives both the voters and political parties an assurance. If the inherent lacunae are solved, VVPAT can be an effective alternative. This would entail that it becomes audio verified, independent of battery and include the usage of sustainable inks and employment of more efficient workforce to manage errors.
Featured Image Source: The Wire
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