Redeem your prestige, Mr. Navin Chawla: An open Letter to the CEC

via published on May 20, 2010

Dear Shri Navin Chawla,

 I am writing this letter to render some unsolicited advice on the raging debate over the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in elections. Having studied all the aspects concerning Indian EVMs in depth as the author of the only book on them, I believe that you would immensely benefit from my advice.

 Mr. Chawla, your tenure in the Election Commission is drawing to a close by the end of July, 2010. It would not be unfair to say that your tenure would be remembered more for controversies and not for any notable contributions.

I am sure you are looking forward to continued involvement in public life. Speculations are rife that you are tipped for either a prestigious diplomatic assignment or a Rajya Sabha nomination in the nominated category.

In the remaining two months of your tenure, you have an opportunity to initiate actions that would help people make a favourable assessment of your term. The ongoing electronic voting machine controversy presents you a wonderful opportunity.

 Your obstinate attitude on the EVMs has caused an unshakable impression that you are keen to perpetuate a voting system which has the potential to be misused. The vulnerability of the ECI-EVMs has even been demonstrated in a scientifc study recently. Thus, your ‘tamper-proof’ claims no longer have any credibility.

 Neither were the EVMs introduced during your tenure nor did you first use them on a national scale. That being the case, there ought to be nothing personally at stake for you in reviewing the voting system in which most political parties have expressed lack of confidence. The more the ECI resists a review of the EVMs, the stronger would be the suspicion.

Here are a few suggestions on what you could do if you wished to end your tenure on a positive note:

 1)                All Party meeting on EVMs

 Call for an all-party meeting to specifically discuss the EVM issue. Let political parties freely express their views. Prmise to initiate reforms necessary to instill confidence in the political class. If this is not done, distrust of political parties in election outcomes would only get deeper.

 2)                Ask the Government to appoint an external Commission

 Write to the Government of India and get them to appoint immediately an external Commission to go into all the issues concerning the electronic voting machines covering the following:

 Whether there are adequate safeguards in the Indian EVMs

Whether the votes are recorded and counted absolutely correctly

Whether the secrecy of the ballot is maintained

Proposals for improvements etc.

 This is what many countries have done when they were faced with questions over the integrity of electronic voting machines.

 3)                Initiate a nation-wide debate

 After so many political parties have expressed their fears about EVMs, it is difficult for you not to engage them and other stakeholders in a dialogue. Why not sieze the initiative and convert this necessity into a virtue?

 Organize a nationwide debate inviting political leaders, experts, technologists, experts, activists etc. to discuss the vulnerabilities of the present voting system and make suggestions to improve them.

 Announce that all possible improvements suggested in these debates would be implemented to enhance election integrity.

 I gather that the Election Commission is worried that taking proactive steps would be deemed to be an acknowledgement that election fraud may have actually occurred in 2009 parliamentary and assembly polls. This is untrue. On the contrary, blatantly supporting EVMs and refusing to debate issues openly gives rise to suspicions about the ECI’s motives.

 The German Constitutional court’s landmark judgment last year should serve as a guiding force in this regard. The Court, which held that electronic voting is unconstitutional, had ruled that the question of annulling parliamentary elections did not arise in the absence of any proof of election fraud. With no traces of any such evidence of fraud, it is nobody’s case that 2009 poll results must be reviewed.

 Mr. Chawla, sieze the initiative and act in a manner that would help you redeem your prestige, earn respect and esteem.

 Even if the ECI fails to rise to the occasion, demands for transparency in elections would continue to grow eventually culminating in an amendment to the Section 61 A of the Representation of People Act (RPA).

 If you take my suggestions seriously, I am certain that you would be leaving an indelible mark of your tenure at the Commission. On the contrary, if you chose to continue with your obstinate approach, the EVM related controversies would continue to court you wherever you go.

 Isn’t the choice very obvious, Mr. Chawla?

 Wishing you a happy conclusion of your tenure,

 With regards,

 G.V. L. Narasimha Rao

President, VeTA

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