Bengaluru: The Election Commission of India (ECI) initiatives such as the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation programme (SVEEP), and celebrity ambassadors may motivate citizens to cast their ballots, but the hassle at polling stations, that too in the time of electronic voting only delays the democratic process by eating up crucial time and testing the electorate’s patience.
Multiple incidents of malfunctioning electronic voting machines (EVMs) marred the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections held across 13 states and two Union Territories. This phase, which saw the maximum number of seats going to polls (117), also witnessed several alleged violations of the model code of conduct (MCC), apart from some other unusual incidents from in and around polling stations.
Reports of EVM malfunctions began pouring in from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar within the first hour of voting. EVM snags were reported at booths 264, 315, 376, 320, 369 and 339 in Kasganj. Muslim voters in Kasganj claimed this could be a ploy to prevent members of the community from casting their ballots.
In Bareilly, voting was halted in the early hours in Mirganj, Daulatpur and CB Ganj polling booths due to technical glitches in the EVMs. Reports of voting machine malfunctions filtered in from Bhagwanta, Fareedpur and booth number 57 in Aonla constituency as well.
Akhilesh sees ‘larger ploy’
As Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav cast his vote in Saifai, he said he was certain that there would be a new prime minister. The Samajwadi Party (SP) president claimed that all the new EVMs were sent to Gujarat, while old machines were installed in Uttar Pradesh. Terming the mismanagement of polls as “criminal negligence”, Yadav questioned the scale of EVM glitches being reported from the state. Citing reports that claimed EC officials were not trained to handle EVMs, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister wondered whether the glitches in voting machines were part of a "larger, sinister ploy".
However, Rampur district magistrate AK Singh was quick to respond, saying he had no knowledge of EVM malfunctions in such large numbers as claimed by the SP leadership. Singh claimed the few reports of technical snags were closer to what is considered normal and that all machines were replaced promptly.
BJP supporters allegedly roughed up Mohammad Zubai, an election official at booth 231 in Sambhal Lok Sabha constituency, alleging that he was asking voters to vote in favour of the gathbandhan candidate. Nargis, a Muslim voter from the Nabab Tarora booth 320 in Kasganj constituency of Uttar Pradesh, while waiting for EVMs to be repaired, alleged that the EVMs “were shut” in an attempt to stop Muslims from casting their votes.
EVM snags were reported from booths 315, 376 and 369 as well in Kasganj. Abdul Gaffar, a resident of Forbesganj, Arariya was not allowed to cast his ballot as his name was on the list of absent/shifted/ dead voters (however, as per EC rules, a person whose name is on this list will be allowed to vote as long as they are on the electoral rolls and can furnish identity papers).
Voters express dissatisfaction
The eastern region of the country was not untouched by EVM snags, especially in Assam, where polling took place in four Lok Sabha constituencies of Gauhati, Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Barpeta. Voters arriving early had to wait for hours at Baghbar under the Barpeta constituency, at Bortola High School under Gauhati constituency and at Thuribari LP School in Kokrajhar constituency.
“After I voted, the red light next to the name and symbol of the candidate did not glow,” said 28-year-old Mustakur Rehman Saikia, referring to the EVM malfunction at polling station no 182 in Hatigaon, Gauhati constituency. “Nor did I receive any confirmation. The woman who voted after me had the same complaint.”
A vote in the EVM is confirmed when a red light glows against the button pressed and is accompanied by a long beep. In case of malfunction, it is to be quickly replaced by sector magistrates and other officials responsible, along with an engineer. Rehman said he narrated his ordeal to the polling officer and the engineer, but they dismissed it by saying it is a "small matter". “I was not satisfied and was awaiting a chance to cast my vote again, but they said this provision is unavailable.”
Former Assam DGP Harekrishna Deka claimed some EVMs may have been tampered with. Deka complained of a delay when he went to vote and said that when he finally managed to cast his ballot, the vote was recorded incorrectly. “There is a serious problem in the system. This is a dangerous thing,” Deka said. He added that he complained to the polling officer and feels we must revert to the older ballot system.
A presiding election officer identified as Prasad Barman was arrested in Gauripur Bani Vidyamandir polling station in Dhubri Constituency for allegedly allowing people to vote without proper document.
Under the East Tripura Lok Sabha constituency, polling was stalled at five centres due to EVM malfunctions. An election official, speaking in the afternoon, said the faulty EVMs were being replaced. Pragya Debbarman, Congress candidate in East Tripura Lok Sabha constituency, alleged rigging in several booths. She said she has lodged a complaint with the EC.
In Odisha, like in the second phase, polling at various places was delayed due to problems with the machines. Voters in booth 232 at Hindol and booth 193 and 194 in Dhenkanal municipality also voiced their dissatisfaction. EVM glitches were reported from booth 37 at Karanjia, booth 212, 213 and 45 in Keonjhar, booth 34 and 36 at Begunia.
Cases of EVM malfunction were also reported from Puri. Polling was delayed due to technical problems in EVMs at Balipatapur (booth 5), Krushna Prasad (booth 4), Tirana (booth 34), Brahmagiri (booth 165), Gadadhar High School (booth 146), Pipili (booth 258, 234), Ranapur (booth 128 and 130), Sunakhala (booth 128), Puri Sadar (booth 11 and 148), Chilika (booth 209).
Voting was also delayed at Cuttack’ Raja Bagicha, Badambadi New Colony, Banki, Talabasta, Laxminarayanpur, Radhagobindapur and Taradihi. The situation was similar in capital city Bhubaneswar, as machines went out of order in Ekamra (booth 112), Bhubaneswar-Central (booth 32), Unit IV (booth 57) and Madhusudan Nagar (booth no 70). Voters in Sambalpur, Kuchinda, Karanjia, Keonjhar Sadar, Keonjhar Municipality and Champua areas also had to wait for hours before they could exercise their franchise.
In Odisha, a mistake by election officials led to CEO Surendra Kumar ordering repolling at nine booths on 25 April. These booths are spread across four Lok Sabha constituencies: two each in Sundergarh and Kandhamal, four in Bargarh and one in Aska. A Biju Janata Dal (BJD) delegation in Bhubaneswar demanded action against Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan, accusing him of violating poll code while interacting with the media at the polling station after casting his vote.
“Campaigning for his political party… at the polling booth and this being telecast across the state is a flagrant violation of the Model Code of Conduct by BJP leader Dharmendra Pradhan,” the BJD said in its memorandum submitted to the CEO. Cuttack district election officer (DEO) issued a show cause notice to BJD’s Cuttack-Barabati MLA candidate Debashish Samantaray over his Facebook post for "influencing voters" during ban period on 22 April.
In West Bengal, agitated voters protested at booth 24 in Mothabari, Maldaha, as voting did not begin due to malfunctioning EVMs until noon. The Returning Officer at booth 24, Mothabari said EVM glitches halted voting several times, but were rectified soon.
EVM glitches were reported in several booths under the Aurangabad Lok Sabha constituency, due to which voting was delayed by 25 minutes. An EVM malfunctioned while sitting MP and Shiv Sena candidate Chandrakant Khaire was voting at Zilla Parishad office in Aurangabad constituency in the afternoon. Polling officials resolved the issue immediately.
The Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) complained to the Chief Election Officer about MCC violation by BJP supporters who displayed posters and banners within 100 metres of the polling booth at Nishan School in Ranip when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was going to cast his vote.
Karwar deputy commissioner K Harish Kumar said a criminal case will be filed against a voter in Karnataka's Uttara Kannada constituency who recorded a video of himself exercising his franchise on an EVM machine. There were also repeated glitches with an EVM in booth 28 in Azam Nagar, Belgaum, which held up voting.
Voting in Kerala also saw delays as EVM malfunctions were reported across several segments with voters standing in long queues even after voting hours officially ended.
Party workers and media across the state went into a frenzy after CPM workers alleged that the VVPAT machine at Chovvara was displaying the name of the BJP candidate when voters pressed the button against Congress candidate. EC officials rushed to the booth and the machine was checked by technical experts. The allegation was found baseless, leading to the CEO warning those who spread false reports about EVMs. Tikka Ram Meena, CEO, and Trivandrum district collector, Vasuki, claimed reports of EVM malfunctioning at Chovvara near Kovalam were “baseless”.
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Updated Date: Apr 23, 2019 22:59:36 IST