On April 17, Chennai will witness a re-poll in booth 92-M, which falls under the Velachery assembly constituency. The Election Commission of India ordered the re-poll following complaints by the DMK and Congress, citing procedural lapses in conducting the poll. The parties referred to the EC a report saying three Chennai Corporation employees were caught carrying the EVMs and VVPAT machines on their two-wheelers on the night of the election day on April 6. The booth has 540 votes.
There have been several such cases. In 2011, eight booths from eight districts went for a re-poll after EVMs malfunctioned following damage. A similar incident happened in 2014 when re-voting took place in booths in Salem and Namakkal districts. In 2019, in many constituencies it was alleged that EVMs had been moved without prior permission.
Days after assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, allegations involving EVM safety again surfaced, though the chief electoral officer claimed that the EVMs caught in Velachery were actually unused spares. In Coimbatore, a container was found kept near strong rooms. When the DMK and Congress questioned the authorities about it, they were told that it was a mobile restroom for the police personnel. The container was removed after objections from Congress candidate Mayura Jayakumar.
In another incident, T Velmurugan, founder of Tamilaga Vaazhvurimai Katchi contesting under DMK symbol, alleged that people were allowed with laptops near the strong room located at Anna University campus in Panruti. Similarly, in Tenkasi district, DMK and Congress poll agents complained of frequent power cuts in the strong rooms.
With so many allegations around, experts say the ECI is not giving due consideration to the physical safety of the machines.
The Citizens Commission of Elections (CCE) has recently brought out a report which shows how in one case the ECI provided no explanation as to why, as required by the EC rules, there were no security officers accompanying these vehicles, and why these vehicles were often unnumbered.
While stressing that the responsibility of physical safety of the EVMs fully lies with the ECI, the unaccountable EVMs supplied by BEL is also worrisome, said Thomas Franco, a banker and a member of CCE.
“Under RTI by various activists, it came to light that there are huge discrepancies between the numbers given by EVM suppliers and ECI over the use of EVMs. The two EVM suppliers, Bharat Electronic Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), supplied 20 lakh EVMs, more than the number of EVMs that is accounted for by the ECI. There is no reliable data on how many EVMs were used by ECI. If this is the case, then demand the ECI take immediate steps to prevent the tampering of the machines,” he said. “The final solution could be going back to the paper ballots,” he added.
Thirunavukkarasu, founder, Cultural and Communication Centre and who conducts poll surveys in every election from 2004, says these issues are inevitable.
“In a constituency if the ruling party candidate has an upper hand, he can influence the polling officers and can change or shift the EVMs. When the officials are conniving with the local politicians, they can go to any extent. They are capable of indulging in voter fraud and booth capturing to manipulate EVMs,” he said.