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Indian Polity

Postal Ballots and EVMs

  • 30 Nov 2023
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), Postal Ballots, Election Commission (EC), Returning Officer (RO), Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs), Chief Electoral Officers, Booth Level Officers (BLOs).

For Mains: The need for safety and security of Electronic Voting Machines and Postal Ballots in ensuring a robust, free and fair electoral process.

Source: IE

Why in News?

Recently, the Madhya Pradesh political parties filed a complaint with the state Chief Electoral Officer, accusing manipulation of postal ballots in the strong room and questioning the efficacy of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

  • However, District Election Officer explained that the strong room was opened by the assistant returning officer with prior notice to representatives for ballot sorting, not counting.

What are the Postal Ballots and Journey of EVMs?

  • Postal Ballots:
    • Postal ballots serve as a voting option for service voters, absentee voters (such as those above 80 years, individuals with benchmark disabilities, or those affected by Covid-19), voters on election duty, and electors under preventive detention.
    • Eligible individuals, after completing necessary forms, receive postal ballots from the Returning Officer (RO) through the mail or, in the case of election duty voters, at a facilitation center.
  • EVM’s Journey from Checks to Storage:
    • The EVMs undergo a process before reaching polling stations. After the completion of first-level checks and randomization exercises, the machines are handed over to the ROs while following guidelines outlined in the Election Commission's (EC’s) latest manual issued in August, 2023.
    • After voting is over, EVMs and Voter-Verifiable paper audit trails (VVPATs) are escorted back to collection or reception centres where they are stored in strong rooms.
    • As per the EC manual, all candidates have to be informed of this and are allowed to send their representatives to oversee the security arrangements.
  • Security Measures and Storage of EVMs:
    • The journey of EVMs involves stringent security measures, including armed escort and storage in air-conditioned strong rooms.
    • These strong rooms serve as a secure location for EVMs until polling day, ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of the voting process.
    • Political party representatives play a role in overseeing this storage process, adding an extra layer of transparency to the electoral system.

What is the Procedure for Postal Ballots and Absentee Voters ?

  • Postal Ballots’ Procedures:
    • According to EC instructions, the facilitation centre in-charge handling postal ballots is required to open the drop box daily in the presence of party and candidate representatives.
    • Each constituency's ballots are placed in a large envelope or cotton bag and then sent to the RO at the end of each voting day.
    • The RO assumes custody of these bags, storing them securely in a designated "special strong room."
  • Absentee Voters:
    • For absentee voters, Booth Level Officers (BLOs) deliver ballot form to the electors' homes. BLOs return within five days of the election notification to collect the filled-in forms, submitting them daily to the ROs.
    • Essential services personnel among absentee voters can utilize special postal voting centres, conducting voting for three consecutive days before polling day. The packets of postal ballots from these centres are sent to the RO at the end of each day.
  • Secure Handling and Counting Preparations for Postal Ballots:
    • In cases where votes are to be counted at a location other than the RO's headquarters, a day before counting, the postal ballots are transferred to another strong room at the counting centre.
    • This meticulous process ensures the secure handling, documentation, and eventual counting of postal ballots in adherence to electoral guidelines.

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail

  • VVPAT is an independent verification printer machine and is attached to electronic voting machines. It allows voters to verify if their vote has gone to the intended candidate.
  • When a voter presses a button in the EVM, a paper slip is printed through the VVPAT. The slip contains the poll symbol and name of the candidate. It allows the voter to verify his/her choice.
  • After being visible to the voter from a glass case in the VVPAT for seven seconds, the ballot slip will be cut and dropped into the drop box in the VVPAT machine and a beep will be heard.
  • VVPAT machines can be accessed by polling officers only.

What are the Different Measures to Secure EVMs?

  • Functional Check: The machines are cleaned and earlier results are cleared. Switches, buttons, cables and latches are inspected for damage.
  • Random Check: A mock poll is conducted on 5% of the total number of EVMs to be used for a poll. About 1,000 votes are polled and the result printouts are shared with representatives of various political parties.
  • Throwing the Dice: EVMs are randomly placed in the constituencies and booths and it is difficult to know which machine is kept where. During the first, EVMs are allocated at random to a constituency. In the second round, they are randomised and allocated to a polling booth.
  • A Dry Run: Before the start of the actual poll, a mock poll is conducted with at least 50 votes in the presence of candidates or their agents.
    • The mock poll is then closed and the results are displayed. On poll day, various checks are conducted by polling agents, observers and central paramilitary forces.
  • Safe and Secure: EVMs are placed in their carrying cases and sealed. The machines are transported back to the reception centres under armed escort and kept in the strong room.
  • Increasing the Existing VVPAT Verification Rate: The order of the Supreme Court on increasing the existing VVPAT verification rate from one to five random EVMs per Assembly constituency or segment, tries to reassure those sceptical about the integrity of counting by means of EVMs.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Questions (PYQs)


Q. Consider the following statements: (2017)

  1. The Election Commission of India is a five-member body.
  2. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs decides the election schedule for the conduct of both general elections and bye-elections.
  3. Election Commission resolves the disputes relating to splits/mergers of recognised political parties.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only 
(b) 2 only 
(c) 2 and 3 only 
(d) 3 only

Ans: (d)


Q. Discuss the role of the Election Commission of India in the light of the evolution of the Model Code of Conduct. (2022)

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