Electoral reforms have to ensure the processes and outcomes of elections do not substitute personal or partisan benefit for the public interest. Can the current system ensure this? Unfortunately, electoral rolls, Aadhaar, lacuna in voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) and electronics voting machines (EVM) work in concert, to corrupt the electoral process. Let us see how.
Each parliamentary constituency had an electoral list with an average of 1,708 parts in 2014
. Each part has an average of 904 voters who cast their vote on the same EVM in the same booth. There’s an average of 15,44,032 voters per constituency. With 65.95% turnout, an average of 10,18,289 votes have voted per constituency. In five Lok Sabha elections of 1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014, on an average 32 seats were won with a margin of less than 1%
, 69 with less than 2% and 101 with less than 3%.
A winning margin of 1% translates to 10,182 votes. With each EVM capable of storing 3,840 votes, just a few EVMs are needed to secure the winning margin.
Is there any way three booths / EVMs could be captured so that the winning candidate can get the winning margin? The problem is which three? The three EVMs have to capture the votes that the winning candidate would not have got.
There are multiple ways to accomplish this. But let us consider one. What if in at least three parts of a list be grouped to collect together voters whose votes would not have gone to the desired winner?
Enter the electoral rolls. Usually, just before the elections, the rolls are revised under Rule 25 or corrected under Rule 26 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960. There are additions and deletions.
Now, the district electoral officers, or their deputies, have outsourced the task of collecting Form 6 (registering a new voter), Form 7 (deleting an existing voter) and Form 8A (transposing a voter to a different part in the roll) to political parties, citing shortage of manpower.
All may still be well if the names of electors in each part of the roll are arranged according to house number as required under Rule 6(1) of the Registration of Electors Rules. There are several parts of the roll where this is not so. This makes it a definite possibility that political parties can capture the booths with some ingenuity. This amounts to booth capturing as defined in 135A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951
Extract of Rule 6 of the Registration of Electors Rules
6. Order of names.—(1) the names of electors in each part of the roll shall be arranged according to house number, unless the chief electoral officer, subject to any general or special instructions issued by the Election Commission, determines in respect of any part that the alphabetical order is more convenient or that the names shall be arranged partly in one way and partly in the other.
(2) The names of electors in each part of the roll shall be numbered, so far as practicable, consecutively with a separate series of numbers beginning with the number one.
Extract from 135A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951
"booth capturing" includes, among other things, all or any of the following activities, namely:—
(a) seizure of a polling station or a place fixed for the poll by any person or persons, making polling authorities surrender the ballot papers or voting machines and doing of any other act which affects the orderly conduct of elections;
(b) taking possession of a polling station or a place fixed for the poll by any person or persons and allowing only his or their own supporters to exercise their right to vote and 4[prevent others from free exercise of their right to vote];
(c) 6[coercing or intimidating or threatening directly or indirectly] any elector and preventing him from going to the polling station or a place fixed for the poll to cast his vote;
(d) seizure of a place for counting of votes by any person or persons, making the counting authorities surrender the ballot papers or voting machines and the doing of anything which affects the orderly counting of votes;
(e) doing by any person in the service of Government, of all or any of the aforesaid activities or aiding or conniving at, any such activity in the furtherance of the prospects of the election of a candidate.]
From 2009 the Election Commission has ignored repeated requests to arrange all rolls as per Rule 6 of the Registration of Electors Rules. The CEO of Maharashtra has ignored the order of the registrar of the Mumbai High
Court twice to do so and stonewalled RTI queries about the action taken on the registrar’s orders.
By not arranging the rolls as per Rule 6 of the registration of electors rules, the lists have become unauditable and made booth-capturing difficult to detect. It is not surprising to see whole new parts to which voters are transposed. It is not a stretch to recognise that these parts have been created to collect voters who would have voted against the desired winner.
Booth capturing with Aadhaar
The then chief election commissioner, OP Rawat, declared in March 2018 that 32 crore Aadhaar numbers had been already linked to voter ID cards
. Linked to voter ID, targeted delivery of subsidies, benefits and services, using Aadhaar, allows the inclusion or exclusion of persons from within a constituency from benefits. This means, the use of Aadhaar can target the manipulation of votes across several booths.
For inclusion of selected voters, their Aadhaar is seeded to beneficiary lists. Such included Aadhaar numbers are not subjected to certification, verification, or audit of their real identity, qualification as beneficiary or even their receipt of the benefit.
For exclusion of selected voters, from beneficiary lists, their Aadhaar is de-seeded, seeded to benami Aadhaar numbers, deactivated or its authentication is caused to fail. This, again, means that select booths can be targeted.
Aadhaar also allows the inclusion, exclusion or transposition of voters using a Jan Dhan account opened solely with Aadhaar. As is by now widely recognised and pointed out by Justice P.B.Sawant, at least 58 crore Aadhaar numbers have been issued without any valid primary identification or address documents. Many of these Aadhaar numbers have been used to obtain valid, but “fake” primary identification documents. This has played havoc with the electoral rolls. It takes little imagination to recognise why politicians opposed to Aadhaar, when in the opposition, have been forcing its linkage to everything, particularly banking, PAN and voter IDs.
The unauditable EVM
The VVPAT adds an illusion of transparency. It incorrectly calls the display of a vote as voter verification. The voter can neither verify as correct or incorrect the votes as they do not get to reject an incorrect vote nor do they get to endorse a correct one. Any objection that the vote was incorrect results in threat of penal action.
Even if the votes were verified while casting, the same may not be counted. In the 2019 Lok Sabha, according to the Election Commission, 60,96,24,293 votes were counted by the EVMs. A significant difference has already been reported between the voter turnout and votes counted in most of the constituencies in the 2019 parliamentary elections. Form 17C will reveal how many voters actually cast votes and how many votes were counted.
To prove that balloting was free from corruption, the Election Commission will have to show that :
No EVM, anywhere in the world, provides the possibility to do either. It is unnecessary to demonstrate whether EVMs can be hacked. The above makes a sufficient case that even if EVMs in a few booths across a few constituencies are replaced or reinitialised, the election is stolen.
Sarah Birch, author of Electoral Malpractice
, defines electoral malpractice as the manipulation of electoral processes and outcomes so as to substitute personal or partisan benefit for the public interest. This manipulation of voter rolls and the use of Aadhaar clearly constitutes corrupt practice under section 123(1), 123(2), 123(3), 123(6), 123(7) and 123(8) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951
. It is beyond doubt that public interest is replaced by personal or partisan interest when
1. The votes received by a candidate cannot be confirmed to all have been meant for the candidate or having been cast by genuine voters.
2. The voter cannot confirm if his or her vote got counted for the candidate it was meant for.
3. All voters cannot confirm that they could cast their vote for their candidates.
Electoral reform has ignored the simplification of electoral processes to ensure that public interest is not replaced by personal or partisan interests. The EC must ensure that the rolls change, Aadhaar ends and that ballots are truly auditable.
(Dr Anupam Saraph is a Professor, Future Designer, former governance and IT advisor to Goa’s former chief minister Manohar Parrikar and the Global Agenda Councils of the World Economic Forum. He has designed delivery channels and ID schemes for good governance in his previous roles.)