The recent recount of ballots cast through electronic voting machines in an election to a ward under Dhaka North City Corporation two and a half years ago has reignited the debate over the EVMs.
The defeated candidate who called for the recount has alleged the Election Commission staged the recount for credibility as the results remained exactly the same as the original count.
Every vote can be recounted in EVMs, claimed Mohammad Mahfuzul Islam, a professor of computer science and engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, who was also a member of the technical expert team on EVMs.
The process, however, is “unnecessary and complex”, he added.
The Election Tribunal ordered the recount of the votes following an appeal by Salahuddin Robin, the defeated candidate. The voting was held in ward No. 6 under DNCC on Feb 1, 2020.
The Election Commission later formed a five-strong committee that recounted the votes last Saturday in the presence of the presiding officers, candidates, agents and their lawyers.
In voting through paper ballots, the ballots are stored in sealed sacks until the next election. The sacks are opened and ballots are recounted if necessary.
Lt Col Syed Rakibul Hasan, director of the EVM project, said that the election results are stored in audit cards.
Each EVM has a ballot unit for a voter to cast a vote, and a control unit for voter identification, electronic ballot issuance and data storage for voting.
Three types of cards are used for voting. Of these, the audit card is used to make the EVM operational and to publish the results, while a polling card is used to store all the voting information of the polling booth.
The SD card is the memory card used for data storage, in which the voter list information along with the biometrics of the respective contesting candidates and the voters of the polling station is stored, Rakibul said.
The EVMs used in Bangladesh count the results automatically after voting.
A total of 54 EVMs were used in the election to ward No. 6.
Rakibul said the number of votes cast for each candidate is stored in the audit card.
He admitted not every vote is counted on EVM, but the numbers are calculated again.
“When the card is inserted again into the EVM machine, it displays the data. When someone challenges, the data can be shown. Its printed copy was signed by officials after voting.”
Abdul Baten, director general of the Electoral Training Institute (ETI) and head of the committee on the recount, said: “We opened the sealed bags in front of the presiding officers and the candidates as per the court order.
“Three or four audit cards were missing. The result sheets and the printed copies of the result were there. We counted them in front of everyone."
The EVM project director said that it may be possible to print the information of each vote along with the number of votes cast through EVMs.
Mahfuzul, member of the expert team, also said it is possible to print each piece of information with the polling card if someone wants to recount the votes in the EVMs.
“In that case, thousands of copies will have to be printed. A lot of information is stored on the memory card. It depends on how much you want to print.”
EVMs used in India are accompanied by Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail or VVPAT, which prints a paper that comes out of the machine and automatically falls into a box.
It means the VVPAT allows a recount of the papers if necessary. "Every vote is printed on paper and stored in EVMs there,” said Mahfuzul.
In Bangladesh, the EVMs have Voter Verified Digital Trail or VVDAT, which puts all the information in the memory card while the audit card stores the integrated data, he said.
“In this case, a recount is unnecessary and complex.”
“In paper ballots, you need to check if the votes were cast correctly or if there was any mistake in the count. But this is not necessary for EVMs because machines do not make mistakes.”
During talks with experts before the latest EVMs were introduced, many asked for adding VVPAT to the machines, but the EC said it was not an option.
Salahuddin, the defeated candidate, however, is not happy with the recount.
“Three audit cards were missing. The Election Commission staged a recount and showed the same results.”
He said he would contest the recount in court on Nov 21.
Although the recount committee chief admitted some cards were missing, Election Commissioner Md Alamgir said there was no scope for audit cards going missing from sealed sacks.
“If it truly happened, we will investigate the matter,” he said.
[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]