Daily Answer Writing
05 April 2021

Q) You are a Chief electoral officer in a state undergoing elections for a legislative assembly. You have heard a news report that an Electronic Voting Machine(EVM) was transported violating the norms set by the 'Handbook for the returning officer'. The news goes as follows:

"The vehicle of a polling party while returning malfunctioned in a traffic jam. It was a rainy day and it was a two lane road. The Escort vehicle with the polling party also got detached. In order to make the EVMs reach to the strong room as soon as possible, the polling party took a lift in a car passing by. Incidentally that car belonged to a candidate running for the election in a nearby constituency.

This was discovered by a few locals who then forcefully stopped the vehicle and held the polling party hostage till the Police arrived and took control of the situation."
Now it is your duty to investigate the matter and ensure the public faith in the electoral process in your area. In this context, answer the following.

a) Critically analyse the situation and enumerate the issues involved.

b) What steps must be taken to ensure free and fair elections.

(Answer in 250 Words)

Source: The IE Editorial: Commission and Ommission

GS 2 Appointment to various constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various constitutional bodies.  `Statutory, regulatory and various Quasi-Judicial bodies.

Approach Answer:

 

Introduction: Being an Chief election commissioner it would be my duty to check for the evidence of any malpractice. At the same time, it is a delicate issue which must be dealt with swiftly and transparently. Further no false narrative alleviate fears in the minds of the people.

In the present situation, my analysis must involve firstly the study of potential motives of the stakeholders involved.

 

Interests of the Stakeholders:

               1. Public - The electors: The confidence of the people who have voted in the elections, could be impacted. They might not feel their vote to be of a significant value.

               2. The Candidate - owner of the vehicle:  It might be in the interest of the owner of the vehicle to be in possession of the EVMs.

               3. Other Candidates: The other candidates would expect a fair-play in the election.

               4. Security and Administrative staff on election duty: They would ideally not want to be involved in an electoral malpractice, as it could risk their job.

               5. Me as an in-charge of the election: I being directly and ultimately accountable, would like to conduct the elections in free and fair manner.

               6. General Public at large: the general public of the nation would also watch such a situation closely and might start doubting the system.

 

Now, the roles of the people involve in the situation as well as their lapses and their impact must be analyses:

               1. Security of the EVM compromised: This impacts the interests of the public as well as the candidates. The security officials did not escort the vehicle as required and the returning officer failed to inform the authorities about the situation on time, instead calling for private people for help.

               2. Negligence and Rule broken: The Handbook for Returning Officer is not followed. Similarly security protocols not followed by the escort vehicle. This calls for punishment according to the rules.

               3. Seeding doubts in the minds of the public: This eventually would create doubts in the mind of the people.

               4. Potential risk in the Democratic Process: If there is a nexus between the officials and a candidate, this could hamper the democratic process.

               5. Question on the Impartiality of an independent constitutional Authority: The perception alone of an EVM being transported in a candidate's private vehicle creates doubt about impartiality of the Election commission.

 

This can both be a case of innocent negligence as well as deep nexus. Thus following steps would be required to address all such fears:

               1. Preliminary investigation to check if EVMs are compromised: The seals on the EVM  must be checked. Statements must be taken by all the parties involved. The public who first alerted about the situation must be identified and their statements must be taken too.

               2. Re-election at the given booth: Even if the EVMs are not compromised, re-election must take place in the constituency to alleviate any doubts.

               3. Lodging a case against the officer as well as the candidate: Wrongful possession of EVM is a crime. A case must be lodged against the candidate as well as the officer.

               4. Launching a comprehensive internal Audit: This would be necessary to check if there really is any nexus or leak in the system.

               5. Revision of the manual to avoid such situation in the future: Exact procedure that should be followed in any such eventuality must be well defined. For example, There must be a wireless way to keep in contact with escort vehicle and if the contact is broken security agencies must be immediately informed.

               6. Publishing a 'fact-finding' report for the public: There should be transparency before the electors about the election process, and they have a right to know about what exactly has happened.

               7. Creating Awareness about the functioning of the EVMs and election process: To strengthen the public faith in the system, regular mock elections and awareness programs must be conducted by the election commission. Help of media should also be taken in this regard.

              

Conclusion: It is very well known that the EVM are tamper proof. If the seals of the boxes are not broken we can be sure about its integrity. However, I as a supervisor must address worst of the fears and thus prepare for it. Further, steps have to be taken that such incident is never ever repeated.???????

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