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February 20, 1998


Vote for Buttonji

The electronic voting machine has once again lost
the election. Here's why you should root for it.

Email this story to a friend. A Correspondent in Bombay

The electronic voting machine strikes at the hearts of India's fiercest demons, corruption and poverty.

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India is, at once, the world's largest democracy and a poor country. Frequent national elections entail horrendous costs of transporting and guarding ballot boxes, printing thousands of tonnes of ballot paper and then hiring staff for counting them.

The voting machines reduce these costs dramatically. And because they are tamperproof, they snip political corruption in the bud. At the voting stage itself. Rigging is next to impossible.

Then what is India waiting for? Nothing. The Election Commission has several millions rupees worth of electronic voting machines. All gathering dust in various parts of country.

The massive losses the administration incurs by not deploying the machines can be blamed on the lack of political will and public awareness.

In 1989 the then chief election commissioner placed orders for 15 million electronic voting machines with Bharat Electronics Limited and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited.

The order, worth several million rupees, sought a technically advanced, convenient and economic way of electing a government.

These machines were supplied to the CEC and, in turn, to state election commissions in some parts of the country.

BEL Additional General Manager J S Isaac claims these voting machines are economical and tamperproof. Developed in-house, the machines were first used in the company's labour union election in 1970.

When the CEC order came, BEL hired the help of a Japanese company, specialising in electronic voting machines. The collaboration customised the microprocessors that would deliver the choice of India's voters. There could be no compromise on that.

The BEL project cost Rs 90 million and could produce 1,000 machines per day. The prototypes were delivered for approval and the CEC placed an order worth Rs 370 million for the supply of 75,000 machines.

Isaac says the consignment was promptly manufactured and delivered.

Subsequently, the capabilities of the BEL machines were proved beyond doubt in the assembly election in Kerala in 1982.

Issac explains that the machines are simple digital devices, offering the advantages of speed and tamperproof operation. A single machine is capable of accommodating 16 candidates and connects to four units from which electronic ballots can be cast simultaneously. The machines can also accommodate 64 candidates in a single constituency.

The tamperproof operation is achieved by sealing off the software from all outside influences. Once polling is complete, the results can be known instantly by merely pushing the 'result' button located in a sealed compartment of the control unit.

The machines' printed circuit boards have undergone 'touch vibration tests' for sturdiness to weather the heat and dust of the hinterland.

Issac claimed that although BEL's multimillion-rupee facility is now unproductive, it would be possible to revive the unit within 90 days for production, if needed.

Karnataka electoral officers say they will spend an estimated Rs 450 million on the current Lok Sabha election. The expenditure goes toward ballot papers, ballot boxes, security and transport even as thousands of electronic voting machines lie unused, discarded by an inert mindset.

- With inputs from UNI

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