VVPAT: 4 Must Reads

Four must reads on the Supreme Court order to increase the number of VVPAT paper slips that the Election Commission physically verifies

On 8 April, the Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission (EC) to increase the number of VVPAT paper slips that the EC physically verifies. Prior to the order, the EC only verified VVPAT paper slips for one booth per constituency. The Supreme Court ordered the EC to do so for five booths per constituency. Consider however that the petitioners, 21 political parties, had called for 50% verification – 5 booths per constituency is significantly less.

The Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system is an independent vote verification system, which allows a voter to see whether their vote was cast correctly. VVPAT machines are attached to Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). A VVPAT machine generates a paper slip that the voter can view to verify that the EVM registered the correct candidate and party. The paper slip is kept in a sealed cover, which can be opened in case of a dispute.

The petitioner sought for the EC to physically verify more slips because they feared that EVMs are at risk of machine failures or hacking. They argued that an increase in physical verification will increase trust in the EVMs, an essential facet of democratic elections.

Are EVMs and VVPATs susceptible to error and/or hacking? Should we continue to trust in the current system? Below are four pieces on EVMs and VVPATs:

  1. An electoral intervention that has clickedSrinivasan Ramani argues that while improvements to EVMs and VVPATs are needed, a return to paper ballots is untenable. He notes that there exists no evidence to show that large scale EVM manipulation has taken place. He urges for ‘a continuing and constructive critique of India’s EVM’ to increase trust in them.
  2. The Impact of Electronic Voting Machines on Electoral Frauds, Democracy, and Development. Shamika Ravi et al study EVMs in State Assembly elections and find that election fraud has decreased since their introduction. Further, they find that EVMs have increased the turn out of ‘vulnerable sections’, such as women and SC/STs.
  3. EVM Miscounts, VVPATs and the Citizen’s Right to a Secret, Verified Ballot. Rajendran Narayanan and Nikhil Dey argue that the Election Commission must verify 100% of VVPAT slips, in instances where an error is detected in the audit process. They claim that even a single mismatch vitiates trust in free and fair elections.
  4. On the notion of ‘software independence’ in voting systemsRonald Rivest introduces the notion of software independence in voting systems. He calls a voting system software independent if an undetected error in the software has no effect on the outcome of the voting system. VVPAT can meet this definition. He puts forward that a software independent approach will show voters that errors/fraud can ‘reliably be detected’ and in cases where they are not, it will have no effect on the outcome of the election.