“EVMs cannot be manipulated as there are technological safeguards”: Former CEC Dr. S.Y. Quraishi

May 22, 2019
As the 2019 general elections draw to a close, a section of people are expressing apprehensions about Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). In this exclusive interview to Teesta Setalvad former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Dr. S.Y. Quraishi talks about his term in the Election Commission (EC), the mockery of the EC in this election season, multiple controversies such as the recusal of the current Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, credibility of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) and the massive amounts of money spent on election campaigns among other things.

On mockery of the EC
Dr. Quraishi expresses his grief over the mockery of a highly-respected constitutional body like the EC by the media, citizens and the politicians alike. He goes on to say that it is unfortunate that in today’s times we are discussing more about the EC’s conduct rather than the consistent violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

He says, “It is unfortunate that in today’s times, the EC is standing in the witness box of the court instead of the criminals.”

On Ashok Lavasa’s Recusal
Jumping on to the controversy over Ashok Lavasa’s recusal on the grounds that his dissenting opinion (specifically related to MCC violation by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah) were not recorded, Dr. Quraishi says, “this is a positive sign as it reflects that there is democracy in the EC’s functioning.”

He further continues, “It is natural to have conflict of opinions when there are three members in a committee. Though there is no particular rule for recording dissent, it is a grey area, specifically in cases of MCC violations, and during my term the EC would resolve the issue amongst themselves, but in today’s times, when EC’s integrity is constantly being questioned, recording the dissenting opinion would have helped the body gain back its reputation. Such a demand (by Ashok Lavasa) is legitimate”

However, he refused to comment on the merit of the current EC’s decision citing that he didn’t have all the facts available, which is the basic principle of natural justice.

On EVM manipulation:
The credibility of EVMs has been questioned since the time they were introduced. Many civil rights organisations, activists and political parties have demanded to go back to the ballot paper system, citing the examples of various foreign countries. However, Dr, Quraishi thinks otherwise.
Dr. Quraishi says, “I completely disagree with the justification that since countries like America do not use EVMs any more, even India should stop using it.” Instead, he says that whichever country stopped using EVMs, it was not because they questioned the technology or credibility (as is the case of India) but due to other reasons. Giving the examples of four European countries which stopped using EVMs, Dr. Quraishi says that it was because the Netherland-based company, that used to supply EVMs to all the four countries, stopped producing it due to some glitches.
Notably, he says, “EVMs cannot be manipulated, as has been alleged multiple times, since there are technological safeguards in place.” He even adds that the EVMs are produced at two reputed factories of government ministries and by engineers who are constantly under the supervision of an independent committee of five IT professors.

Giving a detailed explanation on why EVMs cannot be manipulated, Dr. Quraishi says, “The EC decides in which states which EVMs will go. However, in that state, which EVM will go to a particular constituency or a district is decided by the computer (software). Even we (EC) do not have control over it. Secondly, no permanent party-specific buttons can be made in those factories. For example, first button for BJP, second for Congress and so on. That is impossible. Buttons are assigned on the names of the candidates which can be different at different constituencies. To give an example, BJP’s Ajay Singh can be on number one in his constituency and Shivkumar can be on number seven in his constituency. So how can the numbers be preset in the factory? Also, machines are randomly sent to the polling booths. How can there be any fixing then?”
He further adds that EVMs are under constant security and do not go into private hands at all. Lastly, he says, “we now have VVPATs which should put an end to this long-drawn controversy.”

On VVPAT manipulation:
While Dr. Quraishi believes that VVPAT will ensure a fair election, but various questions have been raised over how many VVPATs should actually be counted for verification.

Dr. Quraishi doesn’t find any scientific basis to the decision of counting five VVPATs from each constituency or any specific number for that matter. Instead, he gives an interesting suggestion. Giving the example of appeals in a cricket match, Dr, Quraishi says, “the same should be applied here, in the sense that the top two runner ups should select two machines each, as per their choice, for verification purpose.”  

He even adds that the practice of conducting mock polls is a sufficient safeguard for ensuring that the EVMs and the VVPATs are functioning properly. However, if there are allegations of the mock polls not being deleted, then immediate verifications should take place.
One very interesting suggestion given by Dr. Quraishi is that if there is a mismatch between the EVM and VVPAT, then all machines in that entire assembly constituency should be verified. Even if that is time consuming, as pointed by the critics, it is still essential to do it “as restoring the citizens’ faith in the democracy is of utmost importance.”

On allegations of extra EVMs being found two days before the results:
Recently, there were reports of EVMs and VVPATs being transported in unauthorized trucks and EVMs being tampered. On this, Dr. Quraishi says, “there are equal security measures in place for the used machines and the reserved machines, both of them are stored in two separate rooms and are sealed.” He further continues, “we have 10 lakh polling booths and all 10 lakh presiding officers get back their machines. So the transportation could be delayed due to some genuine reason. Thus, it is not necessary that there is some foul play or tampering with the election results.”
Dr. Quraishi goes on to accept that a delayed response by the EC is the biggest problem. Instead, when such allegations are made, the EC should immediately conduct an inquiry and make the report public.

On opinion and exit polls:
As per law, the conduct as well as dissemination of exit polls is banned. However, they continue to happen which is a criminal offence. Also, in today’s times, when media has become a “purchasing commodity”, it is not difficult to manipulate the opinion and exit polls.

On money in elections:
Dr. Quraishi, since his term as a CEC, has demanded for a limit over a party’s expenditure for the election campaigns. He believes that putting a cap on a candidate’s expense with no limit for the party’s expense, defeats the entire purpose. In fact, that becomes a breeding ground for corrupt activities.

Dr. Quraishi once again reiterated his demand of putting a cap on the expenses of political parties.

About Dr. S.Y Quraishi
Dr. Quraishi served as the 17th CEC for two years, from 2010 to 2012. Before that, he was a election commissioner for a period of four years. Notably, he was the first Muslim to serve as a CEC. Dr. Quraishi has been outspoken over various electoral issues and has repeatedly given some interesting suggestions. Recently, he had expressed disapproval over the issuing of electoral bonds and called it a way of “legalizing crony capitalism.” Just yesterday, he tweeted “Why is EC not clarifying what the facts are? Speed is extremely important” on EVM tampering allegations. Immediately after assuming the charge of CEC, he formed two departments- Expenditure monitoring department and voters’ education and youth involvement department. He has also been an ardent proponent for lending strength to the grassroots level election functionaries. Dr. Quraishi has authored a book titled 'An Undocumented Wonder - the Making of the Great Indian Election', a book that describes the enormity and complexity of the Indian elections. More about Dr. Quraishi may be read here.