Neighbouring India is the world's largest democracy. National level election in India is an affair that extends weeks given the population size and the vastness of the country. While Bangladesh is much smaller in size and population compared to India, the complexities that come with conducting elections are somewhat similar in both countries.
It took India 27 years to implement electronic voting machines (EVM) in polls, and it has been widely used in the country's parliamentary elections since the turn of the millennium. Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, it was first used in 2010, and remains far from being widely used.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) was founded in 1950 and the idea of using EVM in India was first pitched in 1977. The EVMs were first used as an experiment at some polling stations of a constituency in Kerala state assembly election in 1982.
In 1998, a general consensus was made on the use of EVMs in Indian elections and the devices began being used in state assembly elections. The use of EVM in India reached a milestone in 2001 when state assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, and West Bengal shunned the paper ballots altogether. All state assembly elections in India have been doing the same since then.
ECI used EVMs during India's parliamentary polls (Lok Sabha) in 2004. Since 2000, India has witnessed four Lok Sabha elections in 2004, 2009, 2014, and 2019, where polling relied on EVMs.
During India's parliamentary polls in 2014, 1.4 million EVMs were used in around one million polling stations across the country. In the election of 2019, the ECI deployed a total of 3.96 million EVMs in 1,035,918 polling stations.
ECI's journey with EVMs has not been a smooth one. Over a dozen cases were filed challenging the legality of using EVMs. Several technical expert committees were formed to evaluate EVM's effectiveness. The Indian election commission had to hold a series of meetings with political parties to allay suspicion and doubt about the voting machines.
ECI has been a vehement promoter of the quality of the EVMs, saying it is not possible to tamper with the machines because of technological measures and strict administrative and security measures taken by the commission.
The EVMs are protected from tampering before, during and after the polls and during transportation from the manufacturing company to the state or district, or from one state to another, said the EC in the report.
Bangladesh Election Commission was formed in 1972. EVMs were first used in the country during the local government elections in 2010. The Election Commission led by ATM Shamsul Huda had used it in the city corporation polls but not in the parliamentary election. In 2012, the EC headed by Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad left the EVMs almost out. They were not even used in city corporation elections. The Nurul Huda-led commission overhauled the EVM system and after quite an effort used it for voting in six constituencies following the amendment of a law.
The next general elections are scheduled to be held in Bangladesh by December 2023. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently said that the next national election will be held using the EVMs.
As the national polls come close, the newly formed Election Commission led by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal has said that it does not have the capacity to use EVMs in all 300 parliamentary seats across the country.
"Election Commission lacks the capability to hold elections in all constituencies using the EVMs," the CEC said in a press briefing on Tuesday (10 May). Earlier on Monday (9 May), the Election Commissioner (EC) M Alamgir told the media that EVMs could be used in 100 seats if the political parties could gain confidence in the upcoming elections.
The use of EVM system has also triggered debate in the country as the opposition parties have accused the government of rigging votes by manipulating the machines.
According to media reports, presently the EC has 1.5 lakh EVM machines at hand; 20% of which have become useless due to lack of maintenance. As a result, with the machine now in the hands of the EC, it will not be possible to use EVM in half the seats.
There are 11 crore 32 lakh voters in the country at present, as per EC data. According to the EC, a male booth for 500 male voters, a female booth for 400 female voters, and a polling station for at least 25,000 voters were set up during the national polls.
As such, the number of polling booths in the next election will be more than two and a half lakh and the number of polling booths will be around 50 thousand. Albeit, it is not possible in every booth, one EVM machine has to be backed up in each center. Around three lakh EVMs would be needed for all the voters. Apart from this, two lakh more machines will be required for training polling officials, including mock voting of voters. In all, four and a half to five lakh machines will be required.
Meanwhile. the EC has 1 lakh 52 thousand 535 EVMs at hand. EC Election Management Branch officials have said that so far there is only 13,000 trained manpower to use EVMs. But in order to conduct EVM elections all over the country at the same time, one lakh trained manpower will be required. The latest complication with the EVMs is the location of storage for the machine.
Given the circumstances and infrastructure of the country and the election commission, one might ponder over that how long might it take for Bangladesh to implement EVMs properly.