Supreme Court issues notice to Election Commission on plea to count all VVPAT slips

The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Election Commission on a petition seeking tallying of all Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips to verify votes cast through the Electronic Voting Machines, Bar and Bench reported.

After a 2019 Supreme Court order, Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips from only five randomly selected polling stations in each Assembly segment are verified.

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is a machine that prints a paper slip of the candidate’s name, serial number and the party’s symbol after a voter has cast their vote. To avoid election fraud, it displays the paper slip for seven seconds for the voters to check if their vote has been cast for their chosen candidate.

The paper slip then drops down to a locked compartment that only the polling agent can access. The slips are not handed over to the voters. The collected slips can be used to audit voting data stored electronically.

On Monday, a bench of Justices BR Gavai and Sandeep Mehta was hearing a petition that sought verification of each vote cast in the Electronic Voting Machine with the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips.

The petition challenged the Election Commission’s guideline that mandates verification of Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips one after the other. The plea said that such a process causes undue delay and suggested that the poll panel should instead deploy more staff and do simultaneous verification of the slips.

The petition contends that the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips should be counted meticulously, as experts have raised concerns over Electronic Voting Machines. Discrepancies in the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail have also been reported in the past.

The plea argued that despite the government spending nearly Rs 5,000 crore on nearly 24 lakh Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail units, only 20,000 slips are verified by the poll body.

Demand for tallying VVPAT slips

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Monday said that the court’s notice “bears constant repetition that the Election Commission has refused to meet a delegation of INDIA party leaders who have been demanding 100% VVPATs in order to increase public confidence in EVMs and to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.”

Ramesh said that the court should decide on the matter before the Lok Sabha elections begin. The first phase of voting is on April 19.

In December, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi said that 100% of the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips should be verified as part of the vote counting process.

“[Counting all VVPAT slips] won’t take more than a day,” Quraishi had said in a social media post. “But [this will] restore people’s confidence. That’s essential for credible elections.”

The former election commissioner was responding to a question by a social media user who asked if it would be viable for voters to deposit their Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips into ballot boxes at the time of voting, and for these slips to be counted later to corroborate the data from the electronic voting machines.

On December 3, Quraishi had written in The Telegraph that there is a “need for serious affirmative action” by the polling body to assuage doubts that have been raised about India’s electronic voting system.

Also read: Will the upcoming Indian election be free and fair?

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