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Transporting voting machines to mountains and tropics in Indian elections is a herculean task

NEW DELHI — From the Himalayan mountains to the tropical Andaman islands, Indian officials are using helicopters, buses, trucks, boats, donkeys and mules to transport electronic voting machines for India’s giant national elections.

Election officials travel through jungles and snow-covered mountain trails, and even cross rivers to set up polling stations in tents, shipping containers and school buildings in remote areas.

The seven-phase mass elections in the world’s most populous country, with more than 1.4 billion people, began last week and will conclude on June 1. Nearly 970 million voters (more than 10% of the world’s population) will elect 543 members of the lower house of Parliament over five years during staggered elections.

Votes will be counted on June 4.

Four donkeys dragged the voting machines to the Kottur hills in the Dharmapuri parliamentary constituency in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where the first phase of voting took place on Friday.

However, in West Bengal state, officials were unable to use mules to reach Srikhola, a remote village 1,950 meters (6,400 feet) above sea level. In February, the forest department banned mules in Singalila National Park to prevent the spread of viral diseases in the wildlife sanctuary. They had the help of porters to carry the machines to the voting center.

India switched from traditional ballots to electronic voting machines more than two decades ago. A person must press the button next to the candidate’s name or party symbol flashing on the machine’s screen to cast a vote.

The party symbols range from a lotus flower to a hand, a bow, an arrow, a pressure cooker, a sickle, a hammer, a teapot, a globe and a torch.

An electronic voting machine has a voting unit, a control unit for an official to ensure that a voter can vote only once, and a voter-verifiable paper audit trail unit, known as a VVPAT, which produces a receipt of paper to verify the vote in case of challenge.

Opposition parties, including the Congress and the Communist Party of India, have demanded that ballots be used again to cast votes. Its leaders have blamed the series of defeats at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party on tampering with voting machines.

They have petitioned the Supreme Court of India, but have been unsuccessful so far.

The Election Commission of India says its voting machines are not computer controlled; They are independent machines and are not connected to the Internet or any other network at any time. Therefore, the commission states, there is no possibility of hacking using remote devices.

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