Agartala: To ensure greater transparency and avoid confusion in the minds of voters, the Election Commission has decided that electronic voting machines (EVMs) would henceforth display images of the contestants along with their names and party symbols.
The new system would be operational for the first time during the June 27 byelections to six assembly constituencies in five states - Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu and Tripura.
"Following a Supreme Court direction, the Election Commission has decided to display photos of the candidates besides their names and party symbols on the EVMs," Election Commission Secretary K.N. Bhar told IANS. The images would be displayed between the party symbol and the candidate's name.
"The new mode would be applicable from now onwards in all future elections to parliament and the state assemblies," he added.
The official said that the new system would help voters easily identify the candidates of their choice, avoid confusion on candidates with namesakes and long lists of contestants.
"The new method would be applied for the first time in India during the by-elections to six assembly seats in five states," Bhar added.
The by-polls would be held on June 27 in two assembly constituencies in Tripura and one constituency each in the other four states.
The poll panel has issued a notification to all Chief Electoral Officers and stake holders concerned, making the new system compulsory.
According to the EC notification, available with IANS, no uniforms would be allowed and caps and dark glasses have to be avoided in the candidates' photographs.
The notification also said that the candidates are required to submit a photograph taken during the preceding period of three months before the date an election is notified.
The photograph should be of stamp size with a white or off-white background, with full face view directly facing the camera, a neutral facial expression and with eyes open. The photo may be in colour or black and white as may be convenient for the candidate.
"Following the directives of the Election Commission, we are arranging the new systems for the forthcoming by-elections in the state," Tripura's additional Chief Electoral Officer Debashish Modak told IANS.
"The commission considers that photographs of candidates (on the EVMs) will facilitate the electors in casting their votes and also the candidates in their campaign," Bhar said, adding that the candidates' photographs would also be printed on the postal ballots issued to the security personnel and officials engaged in the election process.
The Supreme Court judgement had come on a public suit filed by Delhi resident Ashok Gahlot.
"It would be a major boost for the Indian electorate that predominantly is illiterate and semi-literate often get confused with candidates having identical names in the fray. Political parties often field dummy candidates with a similar name to confuse the voters," said Hiranmoy Chakraborty, who has considerable experience in the field. He was Tripura's joint chief electoral officer and has worked closely with several chief election commissioners, including the high-profile T.N. Seshan.
"Sometimes candidates have been defeated because their votes had, supposedly due to confusion, gone to the dummy namesakes," Chakraborty added.
"Although suitable suffixes are added to the names of candidates in the event or two or more candidates having same name, this new move would remove confusion in the minds of electors at the time of voting," Chakraborty noted.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)