How important is it for political parties to know how many people have voted for them in each polling booth? Not much, felt the Election Commission and the Law Commission, which recommended that votes polled in 14 booths be counted together with the help of a Totaliser machine developed by Bharat Electronics and Electronic Corporation of India, manufacturers of Electronic Voting Machines.
Putting an end to booth-wise counting would help enhance secrecy and prevent the harassment of voters, felt the two Commissions. “Using a totaliser would increase the secrecy of votes during counting, thus preventing the disclosure of voting patterns and countering fears of intimidation and victimisation,” said the Law Commission in its recommendation. It could also have made counting faster and eventually reduced cost.
The Election Commission had received complaints that funds were blocked and funds diverted from areas where the eventual winners did not receive much support. Cases of post-poll reprisals and intimidation of voters were also reported. But the Government argued that booth-wise voting pattern needed to be disclosed to political parties for better booth-management.
Five union cabinet ministers (Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar, Nitin Gadkari and Ravi Shankar Prasad) while rejecting the recommendation observed that learning booth-wise details of the voting pattern would help political parties improve their performance and deliver ‘booth-wise’ developmental activities.
Dr Reeta Vashishta, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Law & Justice stated in an affidavit to the Supreme Court the following:
“The team of ministers has come to the conclusion that revelation of booth-wise votes polled by a candidate would perhaps be more beneficial and useful since it would facilitate the candidates and parties to find out the areas where they have shown better result and where they have not shown good result so as to work more for that area by bringing more developmental activities to improve their performance in future elections.”
Earlier when ballot papers were used for voting, ballot papers from different booths could be mixed before counting under Rule 59A of the Election Rules. This was not permitted for Electronic Voting Machines though.
In an all-party meeting convened by the Election Commission, several parties including the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and Nationalist Congress Party had categorically supported the introduction of Totaliser machines. According to sources in the Election Commission, Aam Aadmi Party also extended its support to the move which was, however, opposed by the BJP and the Trinamool Congress.
While the EC had suggested the move in August, 2014, the ‘team of ministers’ took a decision against it on September 7, 2016, thus thwarting EC’s plans to introduce the machine in elections to the five states held in February-March this year.
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