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Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora says no to paper ballots

Amid renewed demands to scrap the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs), chief election commissioner Sunil Arora declared on Thursday that the Election Commission would not be “intimidated or bullied” into giving up the machines and going back to the era of paper ballots and ballot boxes.

He also lamented that EVMs were being used as a “football” and that some people were doing a “motivated slugfest” over their use.

“However, I would like to make it very, very clear once more. In fact, it is not I, it is the entire ECI, it is the ECIs of the past, and it will be the ECIs of the future… We are not going back to the era of ballot papers,” Mr Arora said.

“We are not going back to that era where we have ballot papers being lifted, musclemen being employed, besides the delay in counting and also too much harassment of the polling staff on the ground,” he added. The CEC made these remarks at an international conference here on “Making our elections inclusive and accessible” ahead of National Voters Day on Friday.

“We are open to any criticism, any feedback, from any stakeholders, including political parties, because they are the biggest stakeholders… But at the same time, we are not going to be intimidated or bullied or pressured or coerced into giving up these (EVMs and paper trail machines) and starting the era of ballot boxes,” he said.

“Why have we made it (EVM) a football, and doing a motivated slugfest over it?” he wondered. His remarks came days after a self-proclaimed cyber expert said the machines could be hacked and claimed that the 2014 Lok Sabha elections had been rigged.

The Delhi police has lodged an FIR against “unknown persons” and is investigating the case based on the complaint filed by the commission. Following his claims, several Opposition parties have demanded the use of ballot papers in the coming Lok Sabha elections.

Defending EVMs, the CEC said there was one result in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and a totally different result four months later in the Delhi Assembly elections.

“Since then, we have had elections in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram and now Chhattisgarh, MP, Telangana, Rajasthan… The results have been completely different at different times … My simple question is that if the result is X, the EVM is right, and the result is Y, the EVM is faulted,” he said.

Mr Arora noted that EVMs and paper trail machines are manufactured in highly secure conditions by two PSUs — Bharat Electronics Ltd and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd — who do a lot of work for defence units.

In the recent Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Telangana, a total of six incidents were reported. “I am repeating, six anecdotal or real incidents out of 176,000 polling booths. I am not defending those incidents. There were some lapses in those EVMs, that were not used for the elections. Action was taken very swiftly, and they met their nemesis in 24-48 hours. Se are not happy even with those six incidents. In elections, we should have zero tolerance for any incident of such nature,” he said.

Referring to the paper trail machines, the CEC said it is “slightly of recent origin” and there were some incidents. “It is a kind of trial by learning. But the learning is by and large over. Of course, learning in life is never over. I am talking of learning in terms of incidents in failures on the ground,” he said.

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