VVPAT slips 'not designed for counting': ECI tells Supreme Court

If manual verification is impossible, why didn't the Election Commission say so at once? And why are reports from Kasargod at odds with its 'confirmation'?

A policeman guards a set of VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail) machines during a demo session by the Election Commission in Bengaluru (photo: National Herald archives)
A policeman guards a set of VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail) machines during a demo session by the Election Commission in Bengaluru (photo: National Herald archives)

AJ Prabal

The Election Commission on Thursday, 18 April, told the Supreme Court that the report by The Quint in 2020 that there was a mismatch between the ECI’s live voter count and actual votes polled was wrong.

The Commission also told the court that the media report had erroneously compared the approximate voter turnout shown on the ECI website with the actual votes polled.

It failed to explain, though, why it had not cleared the air for the past four or five years.

The Election Commission also told the court that all media reports about any mismatch between VVPAT slips and the EVM counts were false.

Earlier today, it contested reports—indeed, called them false—that claimed that during a mock test of EVM-VVPAT machines this week in Kasargod, Kerala, a few VVPATs printed extra slips showing votes to the BJP.

Polling agents on behalf of both the UDF and LDF had complained that this happened in relation to four machines in two rounds of tests. Each time the lotus symbol button was pressed along with all the other nine buttons (including the NOTA)—and once even when the lotus button was not pressed at all—the machines printed two slips for the BJP instead of one.

This was corrected in the third round after the two Congress and CPI(M) candidates complained. Our correspondent's conversation with the assistant returning officer in Kasargod bears out the same account of events.

The Election Commission, however, told the court that it had <confirmed> with the returning officer and the report was ‘wrong’.

It is not clear what action the Election Commission plans to take against the polling agents if they deliberately ‘lied’. Has the Election Commission filed any FIR, for example? We have no clarity on this yet.

What the Election Commission has done is stoutly defend the EVM system — largely on its own say-so — and told the court that every unit is tested and sealed before representatives of all contesting candidates. There is no possibility of tampering with the system or manipulating the votes, it claimed.

The most remarkable admission by the Commission, however, was that the VVPAT slips are too small, flimsy and sticky to be counted. Apparently, they were not 'designed' to be counted.

This admission reduces the entire proceedings before the court quite meaningless at a single stroke. For the general election this year, with the first phase of polling being scheduled for Friday, 19 April, there is clearly no time for correcting this omission.

The Election Commission is also yet to explain why it has consistently refused to meet a delegation of opposition leaders to discuss their apprehensions about the system and review their suggestions for improvement. The suspicion that the Commission did not want to meet the delegation because it would require it to admit to the design flaws can only get stronger after today's admission.

It is noteworthy that earlier this week, the Central Information Commission responded to an RTI application from retired IAS officer M.G. Devasahayam.

He had sent a query in July 2022, asking what action the Election Commission had taken on a representation on the EVM sent in by a group of eminent citizens. The Election Commission had maintained a studied silence and failed to reply within the stipulated one-month period. When an appeal was filed, that too was not entertained by the Election Commission, prompting the applicant to approach the CIC.

Remarkably, according to media reports, the Election Commission failed to give any satisfactory explanation of its conduct before the CIC.

Now, to come back to the case of the EVM-VVPAT verification, there being no time limit for the court to give its judgement in the case, it may or may not be delivered in the next few days.

So far, the court has been clearly unsympathetic and unconvinced by pleas to restore the voters’ trust in the system. The justices have already made it clear that "every action" of the Election Commission or the government cannot be held to be suspicious — so what's one more black hole for answers to disappear into?

No, nothing suspicious about it, or about yet another 'false trail'.

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