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Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections: Defective EVMs send voters packing without casting ballot; EC replaces 250, many still to go

Bhopal: Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were first deployed by the Election Commission of India in 1999 during Goa Assembly elections. Two decades later, every time India votes, it still somehow begins with complaints related to faulty or malfunctioning EVMs which leads to loss of crucial voting hours.

On Wednesday, even as the excited lot of early electorates in Madhya Pradesh reached their respective polling booths, not everyone had a smooth run at voting. Videos were shared from various polling booths showing voters waiting for Election Commission officials to fix the malfunctioning EVMs and VVPAT machines. Chief Electoral Officer for Madhya Pradesh, V L Kantha Rao, got a first hand experience of the persistent trouble with electronic voting apparatus when he had to wait for half an hour before casting his vote at the Char Imli VVIP polling booth in Bhopal.

While widespread failure of EVMs during mock polls delayed the start of voting process in many constituencies by half an hour to two hours, a proportional number of technical snags were reported while voting was in process until 3 pm. Addressing media at 3 pm, CEO Rao said that a total of 1,545 of VVPAT units, 563 Ballot Units and 583 Control Units were replaced till 3 pm, including the 732 VVPAT units, 352 BUs and 369 CUs that had to be replaced during mock polls.

20 percent units replaced in Satna

Satna district, where 20 percent EVM units had to be replaced, was the worst affected, said Rao, and added that extra units had to be brought in from neighbouring district Rewa when Satna ran out of stock. Hundreds of voters returned to their homes in the district after waiting over an hour.

The state recorded 50 percent voting till 3 pm, and Rao claimed the final turnout was expected to touch the target figure of 80 percent.

After 12 pm, the Election Commission officials in Madhya Pradesh said at least 250 EVMs had been replaced in the ongoing elections. The number is likely to increase as reports of more such instances pour in. At several places, even the machines that were substituted did not function properly, and had to be replaced.

The areas that reported technical snags in EVMs included Mandla, Char Imli, Betul, Harda, Indore, Bhopal and Satna, among other constituencies. While poll officials at polling booth 42 in Rampur Baghelan, Satna, were waiting for new machines to arrive as allotted EVMs malfunctioned, the voters had started to return without casting their votes after having waited for hours.

 Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections: Defective EVMs send voters packing without casting ballot; EC replaces 250, many still to go

Representational image. Reuters

Wednesday morning polling could only start after a delay of two to three hours at several polling booths after the glitch was reported. For example, voting at the Tilak Nagar booth in Indore-5 constituency, where first vote was cast at 10.54 am, was halted after a glitch was reported. At booth no: 96 in Harda, crucial 40 minutes were lost due to a technical snag. Voting process had to be halted due to EVM glitches in at least 26 booths across Bhopal, according to reports till 1pm.

Videos from the Pusali village in Betul constituency showed voters squatted on the ground around the polling booth as they waited for polling to resume. “We have been waiting for two hours but the machine is not working,” said one irate male voter upon noticing a mobile camera approaching him.

Congress calls for 'repoll'

State Congress president Kamal Nath alleged that the voting seemed to be affecting areas which were Congress stronghold and suggested that the Election Commission must consider re-polling in constituencies where fair practice was questionable. His party colleague and Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia wrote to the Chief Election Commissioner seeking an extension of polling time at the booths where voting hours were lost due to EVM and VVPAT malfunctioning. CEC O P Rawat responded saying that it was up to the local officers to take a call on extending polling time.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh tweeted that EVM malfunctioning was being reported from polling booths that had a favourable mood towards Congress. He advised Congress polling agents to note down the number of the changed machines and check the machine by casting 50-100 votes as mock poll.

Congress candidate from Bhopal-Madhya, Arif Masood filed a written complaint with the Election Commission stating that voting begun late by at least two hours at more than two dozen polling booths in his constituency and urged the Election Commission to give additional time to voters.

Many women voters left polling booth 159 in Burhanpur without casting their vote as the process was halted for about one and a half hours despite the Collector and the SP reaching the spot to resolve the issue.

Political analyst C K Naidu said that EVMs developing faults on polling day might have a direct impact on voting percent as lot of voters return back after waiting for hours. Reports came from Bhind that voters had created ruckus after waiting in queue for a long time.

"The election commission should also be questioned as to what preparations were done after large scale reporting of EVM faults in by-election in Uttar Pradesh," said Naidu.

No EVMs for LS 2019?

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has been reportedly leading a pack of Opposition parties that sought from the EC a reversal to ballot paper voting instead of EVMs for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Several petitions have been filed by political parties at various courts, including the Supreme Court, against the possibility of tampering of EVMs. Responding to these petitions, the EC on its website said the credibility, reliability and robustness of EVMs has been validated by various high courts in all the cases after detailed analysis of various aspects of technological security and administrative safeguards around use of EVMs.

In response to a FAQ about EVMs that go “out of order”, the EC said: “If an EVM of a particular polling station goes out of order, the same is replaced with a new one. The votes recorded until the stage when the EVM went out of order remains safe in the memory of the Control Unit and it is perfectly fine to proceed with the polling after replacing the EVM with new EVM and there is no need to start the poll from the beginning. On counting day, votes recorded in both Control Units are counted to give the aggregate result of that polling station.”

The EVMs have been devised and designed by the technical experts committee of the ECI in collaboration with Bharat Electronic Limited, Bangalore and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd, Hyderabad, the two public sector undertakings that manufacture the device.

CEO Rao informed that 78,870 ballot units (BU) and 65,367 control units (CU) are being used during polls besides 65,367 VVPAT machines. Moreover, 15,548 BU, 12,248 CU and 13812 VVPATS are kept in reserve.

About five lakh employees have been engaged to conduct voting at 65,341 polling booths across 230 constituencies in Madhya Pradesh where about 5.04 crore voters will exercise their franchise on Wednesday. Voting was to be conducted between 8am and 5pm in all constituencies barring three that fall under naxal-affected Balaghat district, including Baihar, Lanji and Paraswada. Here, voting hours were from 7 am to 3 pm.

With inputs from Shahroz Afridi

Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.

Updated Date: Nov 28, 2018 18:01:37 IST

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