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SC Stays Decision On Petitions Seeking Verification Of Voting With VVPAT, Says Increasing Voter Turnout Shows Faith

The Supreme Court stated on Thursday that increasing voter turnout is a sign of the public’s confidence in the democratic process, reserving its ruling on a number of petitions requesting full cross-verification of votes cast on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips.

As some petitioners said “the anxiety is that there has to be a faith in the system,” Justice Sanjiv Khanna responded: “Every year, the percentage of people who have been voting has grown. 60 per cent or 66 per cent or even higher is an indication of the faith the people have.”

The two-Judge bench, which included Justice Dipankar Datta, rejected an argument that “far more technologically advanced countries” had abandoned EVMs for ballot papers. “That’s not correct,” the Judges said.

“We have our own system. It’s working well, it’s doing well, why should we disparage? And knowing what has happened in the past, you know the ballot box,” Justice Khanna remarked.

Hearing the petitions on April 16, Justice Khanna had dismissed suggestions to return to the ballot paper. “Fortunately, we are now in our sixties. We have seen what used to happen earlier. Have you forgotten that? If you have forgotten that, I am sorry, I have not forgotten,” he had said.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) members were questioned by the bench on Thursday about the technical and other operational elements of VVPATs and EVMs. Senior Advocate Maninder Singh spoke on behalf of the ECI. “We would like to know how the VVPATs are initially calibrated, at what stages are the candidates or their representatives involved, and what storage or mechanism is done to ensure there is no tampering or possibility of tampering,” Justice Khanna said.

“What we want is that either you or the officer present should allay the apprehensions of everyone — those who are inside court, those who are outside court. Because it’s an electoral process. There has to be some sanctity. Let nobody have any apprehension that something which is not expected is being done,” said Justice Datta.

Senior Deputy Election Commissioner Nitesh Vyas described the technical elements of the EVMs, stating that they consist of a ballot unit (BU), control unit (CU), and VVPAT unit. Party insignia are glued onto buttons on the BU. The unit notifies the CU when a button is pressed. According to him, the VVPAT unit produces the slip with the candidate’s name, serial number, and matching symbol after receiving an alert.

The only data uploaded is in the VVPATs; nothing is loaded into the CU. The VVPATs are completed and put into commission around seven days prior to the polls. According to Vyas, the candidates or their agents upload the name, symbol, and serial number, and all of this information is already publicly available.

He claimed that the manufacturer was unaware of which machine belonged to which constituency or which party, seemingly in reference to worries expressed by technicians engaged in the machines’ manufacture that they might be manipulated.

According to him, the voting machines are removed from warehouses, inspected, and sealed in strongrooms four-six months before to the polls in the presence of recognized political party members. According to him, strongrooms are opened and machinery are put into service following the announcement of candidatures. Five percent of the machines may be randomly checked by the candidates. According to Vyas, mock polling is done the morning of election day as well in order to test the devices.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), stated during his appearance on behalf of the petitioner that there is a chance a harmful program will be placed into the VVPAT flash memory. He stated that when applicants are called for commissioning, they don’t really learn about the technical components of the software; instead, they only witness it being loaded.

According to Bhushan, the regulations also stipulate that the VVPAT ought to have a clear glass. Around 2017, he said, the clear design was replaced with a dark mirrored glass. According to him, leaving the light on would be a simple way to ensure that the voter can see the VVPAT slip.

Pressing for counting the VVPAT slips, he said: “It’s also a question of voter confidence in our whole democratic system. What’s the problem in doing that?”

The bench, however, said that “everything can’t be suspected”.

Opposing the petitions, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said: “This happens periodically on the eve of elections. It has an impact on voter turnout, harms democracy”.

In the meantime, a news report highlighting a discrepancy between votes cast and votes counted in 373 constituencies during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was brought up by Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who represents the petitioners, in a statement to the court. However, the ECI rejected the claim.

As per the study, there is a disparity regarding the live voter participation statistics submitted on the ECI website during the 2019 general elections, which has not been disclosed. There is no connection between the disparity in voter turnout numbers and the EVM. In the 2019 general elections, a system was implemented to provide an approximate real-time estimate of voter turnout. With the help of polling station presiding officials, real-time voter turnout data was posted on the ECI website.

The ECI stated, “There was no discrepancy between the data of votes cast using electronic voting machines (EVMs) which is documented in Form 17C and the data of results which is declared as per Form 20.”

Bhushan also brought up a story from a Malayalam daily during the pre-lunch session regarding EVMs giving the BJP an advantage in a simulated poll in Kerala. The ECI was asked to investigate the situation by the court. The news article has been determined to be “false,” and the ECI notified the bench during the post-lunch session that it will be sending a comprehensive report to the court.

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