Why delay in uploading turnout data, Supreme Court asks Election Commission

Association for Democratic Reforms notes there was also an unusually sharp spike in figures from the initial voter turnout percentages released by the poll panel, creating doubts about authenticity

Updated - May 18, 2024 06:32 am IST

Published - May 17, 2024 12:37 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Voters queue up outside a polling booth in Andhra Pradesh’s Ongole May 13, 2024.

Voters queue up outside a polling booth in Andhra Pradesh’s Ongole May 13, 2024. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Supreme Court on Friday orally asked the Election Commission (EC) to explain its inability to immediately upload on its website authenticated, scanned and legible account of votes recorded booth-wise after each phase of polling in Lok Sabha elections.

“Every Polling Officer submits [voting records] by the evening, after 6 or 7 p.m., by which time the polling is completed. The Returning Officer would then be having the data of the entire constituency. Why don’t you upload it?” Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud, heading a three-judge Bench, asked the EC counsel.

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Rule 49S and Rule 56C (2) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 require the Presiding Officer to prepare an account of votes recorded in Form 17C (Part I) format.

The question from the Bench was based on an application filed by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, represented by advocates Prashant Bhushan, Neha Rathi and Cheryl D’Souza, alleging inordinate delay in the publication of voter turnout data of the first two phases of polling in the Lok Sabha elections.

The NGO said that, besides delay in publishing the voter turnout details, there was also an unusually sharp spike in figures from the initial voter turnout percentages released by the EC. The development has raised alarm bells in the public’s mind about the authenticity of the polling data available in the public domain and even whether the electronic voting machines (EVMs) have been switched.

In a hearing which saw the Bench reconvene well after normal court hours on the last working day before a long annual summer recess, senior advocate Maninder Singh, for the EC, said the application was a deliberate attempt to disturb the General Elections. He said four phases of the elections had already taken place. The fifth phase was scheduled on Monday.

Cites April 26 verdict

Mr. Singh said a judgment of the Supreme Court on April 26 had discussed every aspect about the security of EVMs and conduct of elections, including Form 17C, threadbare. The EC counsel sought time to respond to the application. Mr. Bhushan countered that the EVM case judgment had not dealt with the Form 17C point.

The court found the request reasonable and listed the case for May 24, on the eve of the sixth phase of polling in the Lok Sabha polls.

The petition said the voter turnout data for the first two phases of the Lok Sabha elections were published by the EC on April 30, after 11 days of the first phase of polling held on April 19 and four days after the second phase of polling held on April 26.

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The data published by the EC in its April 30 press release had shown a sharp increase (by about 5-6%) from the initial percentages announced by it on the polling day.

Initially, on April 19, after the first phase of polling, the EC had issued a press note stating that the tentative figure of voter turnout across 21 States/union territories reported was over 60% as of 7 p.m. Similarly, after the second phase on April 26, the EC had said the turnout was at 60.96%.

“The inordinate delay in the release of final voter turnout data, coupled with the unusually high revision [of over 5%] in the EC press note of April 30 and the absence of disaggregated constituency and polling station figures in absolute numbers, has raised concerns and public suspicion regarding the correctness of the data… These apprehensions must be addressed and put to rest,” the petition has said.

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