Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist) has written the following letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, Election Commission of India on certain concerns arisen on the functioning of the EVMs along with the VVPAT and on the impact of the electoral bonds. We are releasing the text of the letter for publication.
Dear Shri. Arora ji,
We wish to draw the attention of the Election Commission of India to certain serious concerns that have arisen, particularly from the experience of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, amongst many political parties and a large section of the voters.
These relate to two broad areas:
a) functioning of the EVMs along with the VVPAT and,
b) the impact of the electoral bonds and role of money power on the conduct of free and fair elections, ensuring a level playing field for all.
Several petitions have been filed in the honourable Supreme Court on both these issues. They however, continue to remain pending before the Apex Court.
Meanwhile a detailed report by a Civil Society organisation, Citizens Commission on Elections (CCE), on the functioning of the Indian EVM and VVPAT system drawing evidence from several domain experts including those on cyber security has raised legitimate questions.
The credibility of the conduct of elections in an electoral democracy is almost exclusively dependent on the implementation and the actions of the regulatory body, which in our case is the Election Commission of India. The Indian Constitution mandates and empowers the ECI with very wide powers under Article 324. The credibility of the election process is based on transparency; and explanations provided by the ECI being verifiable. However, on both these counts, the response of the ECI, following the 2019 elections has been far less than adequate. We, on behalf of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had written to you on several occasions to elicit these which met with little or no response.
Without going into the issues which the CCE report has legitimately raised and their possible adverse impact on the credibility of the EVMs along with VVPATs, we urgently feel that it has become imperative to address a major vulnerability in the conduct of the elections. This arises from the introduction of the VVPAT in 2013 as a response to address the doubts in the minds of the voters as to whether their intended choice is indeed recorded in the counting process. The paper trail coming out of the VVPAT, while addressing the voters doubt, raises another crucial question. Evidence suggests that the exercise of the choice in the Ballot Unit goes straight into the VVPAT which is seen by the voter. But, whether that is what is being recorded in the Control Unit which counts the votes of the EVM is not known. Technically speaking, the choice exercised in the Ballot Unit ought to have been routed through the Control Unit of the EVM which would in turn be transmitted to the VVPAT to be visible to the voter. The current sequence of the three units is otherwise. Therefore, there is a strong case for re-working the sequence of placement of these components. This is a critical question. Unfortunately, even after stating this concern, there has been no response from the ECI. It is in this background that the demand for matching the VVPAT output with the votes as recorded in the EVM has come up strongly. Even on that, the number of machines designated for such matching till now is abysmally low as a proportion of the total number of machines deployed in the entire assembly segment.
This is important because the introduction of the VVPAT has added a crucial and unique vulnerability to the system. In the pre-VVPAT days, the biggest defense of the sacrosanct nature of the EVM was on the ground that the chip in the EVM machine was unaware of the names and symbols of the candidates before it was placed for verification. Subsequently, mock poll and sealing was done for actual voting. VVPAT has changed all this and introduces the element of prior knowledge of the precise information about names of candidates, their respective symbols and the order of the names that appears on the Ballot Unit. In terms of actual operation, other factual evidence has shown that the introduction of the names, symbols and order on the Ballot Unit is interlinked with the operation of the VVPAT with the involvement of private agencies. Therefore, if the VVPAT is manipulated and is subsequently connected to the Control Unit, it is possible that the manipulation is reflected in recording the vote. We have not received any authentic response from the ECI on this count so far.
The second question on campaign finance is equally important. The introduction of electoral bonds has made corporate funding absolutely opaque. We want to remind the EC about its own submission before the apex court, not once but twice, that such unaccounted flow of funds will make it impossible for the Commission to monitor the trail. It is another matter that the honourable Supreme Court has not proceeded towards an early resolution. However, the question still remains as to how the ECI is currently dealing with the impact of this opaque corporate funding and neutralise that to ensure a level playing field, its basic mandate under Article 324.
There are reports in public domain that a fresh round of electoral bonds are being issued from 1st April, 2021. The data available already shows that 52% of the total funding from all sources has gone to BJP, outstripping the amounts received by all other political parties put together. The Association for Democratic Reforms(ADR) reported that the BJP received a whopping 95% of Electoral Bond funds in the run up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This has adverse natural consequences. On the ground, the huge financial resources at the disposal of the BJP is quite visible. Again, this is one area where the Commission has not come out with any detailed plan of action for neutralising the adverse impact. Under these circumstances we are left with no other alternative but to urge:-
a) Re-working of the sequence of placement of the three units, ensuring that the voters’ choice exercised in the Ballot Unit goes into the Control Unit of the EVM where it is recorded and then routed to the VVPAT.
b) A hundred percent matching of VVPAT output with the EVM recorded data for each booth.
c) The detailed plan of action and a status report on implementation to eliminate the adverse impact of money power, a concern you shared in your affidavit before the Supreme Court.
Since the elections to five state assemblies have been already announced and campaigning is already underway, an urgent response would be imperative to set at rest the doubts in public minds. The credibility and the faith in the system are crucially dependent on transparency with which the ECI conducts itself.