Apaperless office is still a mythical entity, but this year when you vote,
it will be paperless. Offices continue to feel the need for paper records, but
our General Elections will be conducted without any. Electronic voting
machines have been deployed in India since the turn of the century for various
local polls; but for the first time, 600 million Indians will elect a Central Gov-
ernment with the press of a button.
Paperless elections have been conducted around the world for a while now, but
the merits and risks are still a subject of heated debates. Brazil, for example, enforces
mandatory voting for national elections using electronic voting machines.
The benefits of 'paperless' are quite clear and immediateenabling quick vote
counts and eliminating the possibility of ballot-rigging as well as the huge and
expensive exercise of printing and distributing thousands of tons of paper securely
around the country.
But it has its dark side, too.
At the recent New Delhi assembly polls, returning officers and election booth
staffers were unable to operate the machines. At another place, a major party
allegedly scared voters by telling them the machines would deliver an electric
shock if they voted for the rival party; while the other party was accused of
teaching voters to 'start' the machine by pressing their allocated vote button first!
In some cases, ballot-stuffing could even be undetectable. In Tamil Nadu, one
party alleged that a machine was accepting votes for all parties, but crediting them
to only one party. Similarly, the then Punjab chief minister claimed before an
assembly election that it was possible to tamper with the programmed chips to
change the votes recorded.
While these incidents may be unsubstantiated, this scenario is indeed possible.
Worse, without a voter verifiable audit trail (paper is the usual method), there is
no way to confirm whether your vote was counted for the right candidate. While
officials may claim that no instances of tampering have ever been noted, that is