Disclosing vote records could disrupt polls, EC tells Supreme Court | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Disclosing vote records could disrupt polls, EC tells Supreme Court

May 23, 2024 04:38 AM IST

The Election Commission's affidavit claimed there were logistical and practical challenges in complying with one of the petitioner’s demands.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Wednesday opposed a plea demanding the immediate disclosure of authenticated voter turnout records in the wake of alleged delays in publishing data for the first two phases of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, arguing that such a request is not maintainable at this stage of the election process and would potentially disrupt the orderly conduct of the elections.

Voters queue at a polling station during the fourth phase of voting for national elections in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.
Voters queue at a polling station during the fourth phase of voting for national elections in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh.

Submitting its affidavit two days ahead of the scheduled hearing in the top court, ECI raised a series of Supreme Court rulings stating that any petition that may have the impact of either creating a suspicion or impeding the conduct of the process and conclusion of elections would deserve to be rejected at the threshold itself.

Also Read: Supreme Court seeks Election Commission's reply on plea over voter turnout data

ECI emphasised its commitment to conducting elections transparently and efficiently, highlighting that the Indian electoral process is often looked up to by other democracies, while suggesting that there were certain elements who keep on throwing baseless and false allegations, creating unwarranted atmosphere of suspicion in close proximity of time of conduct of every election.

The affidavit claimed there were logistical and practical challenges in complying with one of the petitioner’s demands -- that turnout figures recorded by the polling agents at the close of polling in Form 17C, which is then used to declare results, be uploaded online.

“The legal regime with regard to Form 17C is peculiar that while it authorises the polling agent at the close of the poll to get a copy of Form 17C, a general disclosure of the nature as sought by the petitioner is not provided in the statutory framework,” ECI said, asserting that the current procedures and disclosures are sufficient and legally mandated. It added that Form 17C is never uploaded immediately after polling.

ECI pointed out that a wholesome disclosure of Form 17C is amenable to mischief and vitiation of entire electoral space, adding the original Form 17C is only available in the strong room and a copy only with the polling agents whose signature it bears.

“Indiscriminate disclosure, public posting on the website increases the possibility of the images being morphed, including the counting results which then can create widespread public discomfort and mistrust in the entire electoral processes,” claimed ECI.

Addressing allegations of delays and discrepancies in publishing voter turnout data, ECI stated that the data available on the “Voter Turnout App” is provisional and non-statutory, intended for transparency and public facilitation. “The voter turnout data, as available on the ‘Voter Turnout App’ (non-statutory), is only tentative or provisional in nature and through the secondary source. On the other hand, the votes counted are reported as per the statutorily created mechanisms,” the affidavit said.

Also Read: Election Commission, Congress face off over voter turnout data

The tentative figures from secondary source, it added, can never be the final turnout figure as the final figures are on the basis of the statutory forms and the figures contained therein and are dealt according to the procedure laid down.

The Commission said out that the final voter turnout figures are recorded in Form 17C at the close of polling, which is then used to declare results. “The recorded data is statutory in nature. The results of the election are only declared by the Returning Officer (RO) thereafter as per Rule 64 of the Conduct of Election Rules 1961,” the affidavit stated.

The affidavit was filed in response to a plea by non-profit Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) asking ECI to upload scanned copies of voters’ entries for all polling stations after each phase of polling and to provide detailed constituency and polling station-wise turnout data in both absolute numbers and percentage form. ADR also sought the disclosure of candidate-wise results contained in a separate form prescribed by ECI after the compilation of results.

ADR’s plea followed the EC’s April 30 announcement of the final voter turnout percentages for the first two phases of the general election. Phase one saw a turnout of 66.14%, while phase two recorded 66.71%. However, ECI did not disclose the total number of voters per constituency, ADR claimed. These final figures were significantly higher than the provisional estimates previously released by the ECI, which were published over 10 days after the first phase and four days post the second phase of polling.

Citing these publications, ADR filed an application in the court, urging ECI to release the absolute vote counts immediately. The plea highlighted a discrepancy exceeding 5% between the final turnout figures and the initial data released on polling days, suggesting an unusual increase of 5-6%.

The plea argued that the substantial delay in releasing voter turnout data for the first two phases, coupled with the sharp increase in final figures, has created apprehensions among the electorate.

To be sure, voting percentages typically increase in the days following the release of the provisional turnout since it takes time for the poll workers to return from remote polling places located in difficult-to-reach geographic areas, depending on a variety of factors, including the weather. Re-polling in any constituency may also be the cause of the data update delay. The third phase of the ongoing polls addressed the longer lag experienced this time around.

ECI stated in its affidavit that ADR’s request is not maintainable at this point in the election process and could interfere with the smooth running of the ongoing LS polls, besides being contrary to the legislative mandate given by the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and the guidelines made thereunder for the conduct of the elections.

ECI criticised ADR for allegedly creating a false narrative and baseless suspicion regarding the election process. “There is a consistent mala fide campaign/design/efforts to keep on raising suspicion and doubt in every possible manner and by misleading assertions and baseless allegations regarding the conduct of Election Commission of India,” it said.

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