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SC Asks EC 5 Doubts Ahead Of Verdict On Pleas Seeking 100% Verification Of EVM Votes Using VVPATs

Under an order by the Supreme Court of India, April 8, 2019, the Election Commission has mandated VVPAT slips count of five randomly selected polling stations in each assembly constituency/segment of the parliamentary constituency of the states/UTs.

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An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is a device for recording votes and is used in India for voting in elections Photo: File PTI image
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday sought clarification on four things from the Election Commission ahead of pronouncing the verdict on pleas seeking complete cross-verification of votes cast using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta, which reserved its verdict on a batch of pleas seeking complete cross-verification of votes cast using EVMs with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), said it needs clarification on certain aspects as there was some confusion in answers given by the EC in its 'frequently asked questions' (FAQs) on EVMs.

Reserving judgment in the matter, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said it is not the controlling authority for elections and cannot dictate the functioning of Election Commission. The bench of Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta said it "cannot act on mere suspicion."

What Is EVM, VVPAT

An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is a device for recording votes and is used in India for voting in elections. An EVM consists of two Units – a Control Unit and a Balloting Unit – joined by a five-meter cable. Since 2010, the Election Commission has been phasing in a third unit called the VVPAT or the bjp-hate-speech-rahul-priyanka-gandhi-congress-manifesto">Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail, which allows voters to verify that their votes have been recorded correctly by printing a paper receipt.

Under an order by the Supreme Court of India, April 8, 2019, the Election Commission has mandated VVPAT slips count of five randomly selected polling stations in each assembly constituency/segment of the parliamentary constituency of the states/UTs by the returning officer, by draw of lot in presence of candidates/their counting agents and ECI observer, for verification of the result obtained from the control unit.

SC's 5 Questions To EC

  1. The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the EC whether the micro controller is installed in the controlling unit or in the VVPAT, saying, "There seems to be indication, we were under the impression that the microcontroller is in the Control Unit. We were told that VVPAT has a flash memory."

  2. "Second thing we wanted to know is the microcontroller installed is it one time programmable? Confirm that," the Supreme Court bench asked

  3. "Third thing is, you refer to Symbol Loading Units, how many of them are available?" Supreme Court said.

  4. "Fourth thing is, it was said limitation for election petition is 30 days and hence the data was stored for 45 days. But as per RP Act, the limitation period is 45 days. So the period for storage may have to be correspondingly increased?" LiveLaw quoted the Supreme Court bench as saying.

  5. "The other thing is whether the Control Unit only is sealed or the VVPAT is kept separately, that we want some clarification," the bench asked EC.

What Is The EVM-VVPAT Case About

The pleas demand 100 per cent verification of votes cast on EVMs through VVPATs. 'The petitioners, which include NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), have sought matching the count in EVMs with votes that have been verifiably "recorded as cast" and to ensure the voter is able to verify through VVPAT slip that his vote, as recorded on the paper slip, has been "counted as recorded".

The petitioners, during the hearing, stressed that the measures to increase the confidence of the voters must be adopted, arguing that a few days delay in the declaration of results in a small price to pay for the larger goal of fair and transparent election process.

During the hearing, the bench also orally expressed reservations about the manual counting process, saying that human interventions can lead to problems.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta is scheduled to pronounce the directions on the plea in which order was reserved by the apex court on April 18.

Petitioners Seek Going Back To Ballot Papers

Underscoring the importance of voter satisfaction and trust in the electoral system, the Supreme Court had during the hearing on April 16 told petitioners, who sought its direction to go back to using ballot papers, not to suspect the efficacy of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and appreciate if the Election Commission does good work.

NGO 'Association for Democratic Reforms' (ADR), one of the petitioners, sought reversal of the poll panel's 2017 decision to replace the transparent glass on VVPAT machines with an opaque glass through which a voter can see the slip only when the light is on for seven seconds.

Hearing the petitions on April 16, the Supreme Court said: "We are in our 60s. We all know what happened when there were ballot papers, you may have, but we have not forgotten."

Justice Sanjiv Khanna told the above to Prashant Bhushan, counsel for one of the petitioners, Association for Democratic Reforms. Bhushan was arguing how most European countries that had opted for voting through EVMs have returned to paper ballots, an NDTV report mentioned.

"We can go back to paper ballots. Another option is to give VVPAT slip to the voters in hand. Otherwise, the slips falls into the machine and the slip can be then given to the voter and it can be put into the ballot box. Then the VVPAT design was changed, it had to be transparent glass, but it was changed to dark opaque mirror glass where it is only visible when the light is on for 7 seconds," the report quoted Bhushan as saying.

On citing Germany's example, Bhushan was reminded by Justice Dipankar Datta that India's voter population is around 10 times more than that of Germany. "Ninety-seven crore is the total number of registered voters. We all know what happened when there were ballot papers," Justice Khanna said.

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'Possibility Of Human Error Cannot Be Ruled Out': EC On EVMs

During the hearing, which spanned for nearly two days, the bench had interacted for nearly an hour with senior Deputy Election Commissioner Nitesh Kumar Vyas to understand the functioning of EVMs and told advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, that voter satisfaction and trust are at the core of the electoral process.

Senior advocate Maninder Singh, appearing for the Election Commission, had submitted that EVMs are standalone machines and cannot be tampered with but possibility of human error cannot be ruled out, according to a news agency PTI report.

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