The EVM ghost is back to haunt elections, thanks to DUSU polls
Campus Politik

The EVM ghost is back to haunt elections, thanks to DUSU polls

The EVM malfunctioning and the lack of transparency in DUSU's vote counting have brought back the national debate over the credibility of EVMs.

By Amit Bhardwaj

Published on :

The Delhi University administration will not want to remember this students’ body election, said a senior reporter, with a Hindi news channel. By now the results are there for everyone to see: Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) has clinched three posts—President, Vice President, and Joint Secretary, while National Students’ Union India (NSUI) could only secure the secretary’s post. Within a month, these victories will be forgotten; life on campus will go on as usual. But what will haunt the DU administration is its failures and utter disregard for transparency in the electioneering process.

Moreover, these elections will be remembered for the controversy around the malfunctioning of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). 

This was the first time that counting was suspended during a DU election owing to malfunctioning of EVMs. Thursday stood witness to everything—EVM display malfunction, votes being polled on ballots not even registered on the list, suspension of counting, scuffle due to lack of transparency and attempts to hinder journalists from carrying out their responsibilities. 

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), whose student wing CYSS was contesting the poll in alliance with the AISA, was quick to jump on the issue. Indeed, the EVM issue has made this DU election one of national importance. For those who would like to disagree, one need only look at how the Election Commission of India (ECI) had to issue several clarification letters. The ECI categorically said the EVMs used by the DU administration were not acquired from them—an attempt to distance itself from the entire controversy.

The use of EVMs in DU had started in 2009 and this year the EVMs were acquired from Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL).

For all students’ bodies and their parental political organisations, these polls are a fierce political battle. When the counting was stopped for a second time on September 13, Chief Election Officer Prof VS Kaul announced that “counting for the day has been suspended” and that “everyone can go home”. Despite the unprecedented nature of the development, Kaul didn’t address the media nor did he issue a written statement about the suspension of counting.

Last year, during DS Rawat’s tenure as the chief election officer (CEO), journalists were issued passes on the day of counting from outside the centre. They were allowed to enter the counting centre; conduct briefings, piece to cameras (PTCs) and Facebook lives outside the centre as and when they wanted to. This year, however, the police told reporters, “Once you enter the centre, you can’t come out.” Although, eventually, journalists did manage to find a way out. But the question remains: Why were journalists stopped in the first place?

Last year, journalists were also given a brief about trends after each round of counting—who is leading, by what approximate margin. After which, reporters would come out to conduct Facebook lives or PTCs. This process ensured that party workers standing outside the centre got regular inputs on the trends. This year, no such briefings were made by the election body.

“In my time as a chief officer, we always allowed media in the counting centre, as transparency is essential and is better for the university as well,” a former CEO for DU polls told Newslaundry. He further added that in his days, he never stopped the commotion caused by journalists, and “never curbed the number of persons from the media.”

Another change this year was the area designated to journalists. Last year, during Rawat’s tenure, reporters were seated on a stage where large display boards were installed. One could easily observe the votes being polled on each post for each ballot number. But Kaul’s measures ensured that journalists were designated to the gallery on the first floor—far away from the display panels.

Kaul didn’t even bother to come out and speak to the media or issue an official statement when he decided to announce the suspension of counting.

Our calls and messages to Kaul went unanswered. The story will be updated as and when he responds.

The EVM saga

Delhi University started using EVMs as early as 2009. A senior official told Newslaundry, “We have acquired it from private vendors.” This year, the EVMs were acquired from the ECIL.

On Thursday, the counting stopped when the display of one of the EVMs was not working. It took over 45 minutes to sort the situation out.

“Yes, there can be issues with the display not functioning properly, but that is an issue that can be fixed instantly. The students can be told beforehand that display issues can occur,” the former CEO of the DUSU polls said.

After six rounds of counting, NSUI’s Sunny Chhillar was leading on the president’s post and Akash Chaudhary was leading on the secretary’s post. And ABVP candidates were leading on vice president and joint secretary’s posts.

Next thing that the journalists heard was that an EVM malfunction had been detected. There were nine candidates for the post, including NOTA, and votes were polled for ten ballot numbers—a cause for concern. Outgoing DUSU vice-president Kunal Sehrawat told Newslaundry, “When there are only eight candidates plus NOTA, how come votes were polled on the tenth option? In this EVM, NSUI candidate had got zero votes, but the 10th option had 46 votes. The election officers maintained no transparency whatsoever.”

Subsequently, a minor scuffle was reported. And eventually, the counting was stopped. Later, suspension of counting owing to “irreparable technical glitch” in one EVM was announced.

The only announcement made in this regard was when sloganeering against the DU administration started, and journalists started tweeting about the incident. Not only NSUI and AISA-CYSS protested against the Election Commission, but even ABVP sloganeered against the DU election body. However, national media convenor of ABVP Monika Choudhary had said the party had requested the administration to resume the counting process.

While the former CEO maintained that the EVMs “cannot be tampered with”, he added, “You need to know how to handle a situation like this.”

The only solution that Kaul came up with was the suspension of counting and asking students “to go home”. After much deliberations, all candidates signed the document saying they wanted the counting to be resumed.

Defending the DU election body, ABVP’s national joint organisational secretary Sri Niwas said NSUI’s claims were uncalled for. “The votes were already cast (on Wednesday). And the complaints surfaced while counting. It would be wrong to say that the results were influenced due to these glitches,” he said. ABVP’s newly elected vice-president Shakti Singh told Newslaundry, “It is out of NSUI’s fear of losing the polls that they made such claims. They make a hue and cry only when they start losing polls. Anyway, this is an ideological victory of ABVP on the campus.”

The opposition parties have come down heavily on the DU administration. AISA, in its official statement, said, “The reports of  mismanagement in polls and the recurring problems in the EVM has reinstated the nationwide suspicion that the ruling party is trying to scuttle democratic institutions and the DU administration has once again lost the trust of common students.” AISA-CYSS has demanded a high-level judicial enquiry in the poll mismanagement and EVM malfunctioning.

Today, Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee President Ajay Maken and NSUI’s national organisational secretary Ruchi Gupta held a presser. In the presser, the duo alleged that EVMs started malfunctioning only after NSUI candidates took a lead. The malfunctioning of EVMs was used to rectify this (the ABVP took a lead on all seats except one). The Congress party is planning to approach the court against the DU administration and the reported EVM malfunctioning. “DU and ECI both acquire EVMs from ECIL. If EVMs can be tampered with in the DUSU polls, it can be done in the state and Lok Sabha polls too. Elections should be held through ballot paper,” DPCC president Maken said.

Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal questioned the ECI on its earlier claims of “no one can manufacture or buy or sell EVMs privately?”

The EVM malfunctioning and the lack of transparency in DUSU’s vote counting have brought back the national debate over the credibility of EVMs. Moreover, this incident also has the potential to open up the electioneering process to legal scrutiny, which could ensure a higher degree of transparency.