EVM passes with flying colours
Dispelling fears and doubts, the electronic voting machines have proved reliable.
The Daily Star spoke to 278 voters to know of their experience in the first-ever Narayanganj City Corporation polls yesterday and almost all of them agreed that the voting method should stay.
Popularly known as EVMs, the devices were “quick”, “convenient” and “easy-to-use”, voters said, although they reserved their final verdict till “the polls results are out”.
“This was the most fun I've ever had in any election,” said a smiling Jahedul Haque Bhuiyan, aged 105, who came to Baburail Boys and Girls Primary School with his 28-year-old grandson to cast his vote.
More than one lakh people voted through the machines at 58 polling stations yesterday. The EVMs underwent live testing at the Chittagong City Corporation elections on June 17 last year; they were successfully used at 14 polling stations.
Even moments before the NCC polls, different quarters, including the main opposition BNP, spoke against EVMs, saying the devices could be tampered with to rig polls.
“I now understand those [statements] were just silly and stupid propaganda,” said Haji Mohammad Abdul Miah, a 60-year-old retired government official, who was seen discussing the new system with a friend near Bangabandhu Government Primary School in Pikepara, Narayanganj.
“It's really quick and very easy,” he said. “I was surprised how easy it was and how fast I was done with it!”
The EVMs also provided much excitement and amusement to the voters and election officers on an otherwise quiet election day.
Around 8:20am, at Jalkuri West Government Primary School polling centre, middle-aged Khuku Rani struggled to cast her vote with the machine.
She left the booth thrice thinking she was done. But the assistant presiding officer called her back each time trying to help her cast the vote correctly.
She got it right the fourth time. As she came out of the booth, she had a large, made to conquer smile all across her face.
Around 12:15pm, at a booth at Jalkuri East Government Primary School, Siddiqur Rahman, 76, leaned towards the assistant presiding officer and nodded as the official instructed him about the EVM.
He went inside the booth and reappeared in only 10 seconds after three loud beeping noises. His votes were accepted.
Siddiqur was greeted with applause for casting his vote on the first try.
“Beautiful!” the assistant presiding officer said as he shook the old man's hands.
However, moments like these were rare at all of the 58 polling stations. The officers had to explain the process several times to most voters.
Some frustrated officials were seen going inside the booths to help the voters.
“It was the most embarrassing situation in my life!” said Haji Mohammad Yunus, a 63-year-old in Babubazar after casting his vote at Bay Union High School centre in the area.
“It took me three tries before I managed to cast my vote,” said Yunus, one of the rare few who had reservations about the system.
Another person was Shamim Osman, one of the three leading contenders for the city mayor's office.
“Votes were rigged using the EVMs,” he said in a written statement yesterday afternoon, “and the Election Commission failed to prevent it”.
However, people started getting used to the electronic voting system as the day progressed.
By the time polling ended, almost all the voters who cast their ballots through e-voting agreed that the method had been a big improvement over the traditional one.
Abdullah Al Mamun, assistant presiding officer at Baburail Boys and Girls Primary School, said he had been in that position for five years.
“From my experience, I can say the EVM is the easiest and smoothest way to collect votes.”
Jahangir Alam, another assistant presiding officer at No 145 Ekrampur Government Primary School, echoed Mamun's view. He, however, had a few suggestions to make the system even better.
“The symbols should be colourful as many people with weak eyesight can't see them right.”
Selina Hayat Ivy, the mayoral candidate to emerge the polls winner, according to unofficial results, earlier had doubts over e-voting.
But yesterday she was quite impressed with the EVM.
Speaking to The Daily Star, she said the existing system of appointing polling agents could be replaced with the introduction of this technology and honest service of government officials.
With the machines in operation, assistant presiding officers can conduct the polls even in the absence of polling agents, she said.
While the elderly were making frantic efforts only to grasp the idea of e-voting, the younger voters seemed to have fun and most of them cast their votes in ten seconds.
“It was fun, like playing a video game!” said Suraiya Islam, a 19-year-old school student. This was her first vote.
Suraiya, a voter at Baburail Boys and Girls Primary School centre, said she particularly enjoyed the loud beep accompanying the vote. “It was exciting! I also taught my mother and grandmother how to use it.”
While the voters gave the devices glowing grades, many of them went through a fleeting suspicion.
“Yes, I cast my vote. It was easy and convenient. But all I did was press a few buttons. I have no idea what happened there and whether my vote was really accepted,” said Anisur Rahman Khan, a businessman from Enayetnagar in Narayanganj, who cast his vote at the Enayetnagar High School polling center.
“I'll wait for the final results to see whether the machine accepted all the votes.”