People can do mischief with polling data, claims Election Commission

In affidavit filed in Supreme Court, ECI opposes demands for disclosure on its website of all polling details

Representative image
Representative image

AJ Prabal

The Election Commission of India (ECI), which had told a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud on 17 May that there was no difficulty in disclosing Form 17C details of polling except that it would take time, on Wednesday raised seven objections in an affidavit it filed. The case will come up before the vacation bench on Friday, and the affidavit makes it clear that no immediate direction or relief can be expected.

Opposing the application filed by ADR (the non-profit Association for Democratic Reforms) and common cause seeking immediate publication of voter turnout data with respect to the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, the ECI told the Supreme Court that indiscriminate disclosure of Form 17C data would increase “the possibility of images being morphed, including counting results, which can create widespread public discomfort and mistrust in the electoral process”.

The following seven objections have been raised in the affidavit:

1. A wholesome (sic) disclosure of Form 17C is amenable to mischief and vitiation of entire electoral space

2. Indiscriminate disclosure and public posting on the website increase the possibility of the images being morphed, including the counting results

3. Under the law, Form 17C needs to be given only to the polling agent. The Rules do not permit giving of Form 17C to any other entity

4. Out of a total of seven election phases, five have been completed (as on 20 May). The next two are scheduled for 25 May and 1 June.

5. Under Article 329(b) of the Constitution, judicial interference in the electoral process from the date of notification till declaration of results is barred

6. If Form 17C data is made available on website, polling agents may not remain at polling stations towards the close of polling to sign the form

7. The absence of signature of any polling agent on Form 17C may itself become a ground to challenge the veracity of the form, and create further doubt and suspicion

The affidavit also mentions that "there are no scanners at the polling stations... If it is to be done centrally after aggregation by ARO or RO at Sub-Divisional or District head quarter, it violates the extant legal design of straight away keeping Form 17C in strong room after giving a copy to the agent of the candidate...there may be instances where the polling staff may not be so accustomed with technological aspects…and these aspects require advance planning and scheduling of training".

The ECI also cited rules to claim that at the close of polling, the returning officer has to ensure that along with the EVM and other materials, said Form 17C in original is safely stored in Strong Room.

"There is neither delay nor difference in percentages of voter turnout data, more than what is inbuilt into the process, scale and magnitude in play." 

Speaking of legal remedies against variance in data, the ECI says that candidates as well as voters can file an election petition if they have a cause of action relating to any variance in statutory forms. 

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