Opposition parties in the world’s most populous democracy, India, claimed widespread fraud this week involving electronic voting machines (EVMs) used to log ballots from nearly one billion registered voters in the marathon six-week general election.
India’s colossal elections began on April 11 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the front-runner as tens of millions cast their votes on the first day.
India’s electoral body is expected to announce the final tally on Thursday.
While BBC notes that “analysts warn exit polls have often been wrong in the past,” Modi and his ruling BJP are expected to be the victors of the massive election.
The Times reports:
With exit polls predicting a decisive victory for the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), opposition groups have demanded greater transparency when votes are tallied on Thursday. The complaints follow several allegations of irregularities in handling the electronic voting machines (EVM) used to log ballots from up to 900 million registered voters.
Videos circulated on social media, purporting to show EVMs arriving late at storage rooms, or being removed from secure areas, have fueled the air of conspiracy among frustrated opposition parties.
On Tuesday, India’s Election Commission (EC) dismissed voting machine tampering allegations as “false,” claiming that all EVMs used in the elections are kept safe in heavily guarded rooms, the Times of India notes.
In a statement, the EC declares:
Election commission of India would like to emphatically and unambiguously clarify that all such reports and allegations are absolutely false and factually incorrect. The visuals [footage] seen viral on media do not pertain to any EVMs used during the elections
After the close of polls, all polled EVMs and VVPATs [Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails] are brought under security cover to designated strongrooms, which is sealed with double locks, in the presence of the candidates and in the presence of observers of the Election Commission.
The entire process of storage and sealing of the strongroom is covered under videography. Continuous CCTV is done till completion of counting. Each strongroom is guarded with round-the-clock security by Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). Further, the candidates or their designated agents remain present at the strongroom for 24/7 vigil at all times. On the counting day, the strongrooms are opened in the presence of the candidates/agents and observer under videography.
The commission went on to assert that it will “thoroughly” investigate any lapse in handling EVMs, adding that disciplinary action will be taken against anyone involved.
In a statement, the former president and member of the main opposition Congress party declared:
I am concerned at reports of alleged tampering of voter’s verdict. The safety and security of the EVMs, which are in the custody of ECI [Election Commission of India], is the responsibility of the commission. There can be no room for speculations that challenge the very basis of a democracy. People’s mandate is sacrosanct and has to be above any iota of reasonable doubt.
Leaders of 22 opposition parties reportedly met with the election commission on Tuesday over the EVM tampering allegations.
India’s Outlook magazine notes:
During the meeting with the poll body officials, the opposition leaders demanded transparency and fairness in the counting of votes on May 23. …The opposition parties have often said the EVMs can be tampered with, a charge that has been rejected by the EC. …They also demanded that if any discrepancy is found during VVPAT verification, 100 percent counting of the paper slips of VVPATs of all polling stations of that particular Assembly segment should be done and compared with the electronic voting machine (EVM) results.
On Tuesday, Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer Ranbir Singh proclaimed that the EVMs are “absolutely fool-proof” and fulfill all “transparency and administrative protocols.”
He argued that it is impossible to hack or tamper with the machines.
Singh told the Press Trust of India (PTI):
There is no way that the machine can be tampered with, manipulated, or hacked into because it does not have connectivity with the outside world. It does not have internet, wi-fi or Bluetooth connectivity. This means you cannot access the mind of the machine. It has a one-time programmable chip.
BBC notes that exit polls expect Modi and his BJP to win the general elections.
“Four exit polls saw big wins for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), predicting that it would win anywhere between 280 and 315 seats, far more than the Congress party,” BBC explains.
“However, a Nielsen-ABP news channel poll suggested that the BJP alliance would win 267 seats, falling short of a majority,” BBC adds.