Friday, June 14, 2024
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Impossible to tamper with EVMs at any stage, ECI tells SC

Electoral employees assemble EVM and VVPAT machines in Bhopal.

Electoral employees assemble EVM and VVPAT machines in Bhopal.
| Photo Credit: A.M. FARUQUI

The Election Commission of India (ECI) categorically assured the Supreme Court that it is impossible to tamper with electronic voting machines (EVMs) “at any stage”.

The assurance comes on the eve of the General Elections to the Lok Sabha.

Replying to a query on whether tampering of EVMs was possible after polling, the ECI said polling officers press the ‘close’ button at the end of polling.

“Thereafter, the EVMs do not accept any votes,” a 14-page affidavit said.

The presiding officer records the poll start and close timings in the machine.

“After the close of polling, the control unit is switched off and thereafter the ballot unit is disconnected from the control unit and kept separately in their carrying cases and sealed with paper slips on which the polling agents sign,” the ECI said.

A copy of the total votes is recorded in Form 17C (account of votes recorded) under the Conduct of Election Rules.

“At the time of counting of votes, the total votes recorded in a particular control unit is tallied with the account of votes in Form 17C. If there is any discrepancy, the counting agents of the candidates can request the counting of VVPAT paper slips,” the affidavit explained.

The court was hearing petitions seeking cross-verification of 100% EVM votes with VVPAT paper slips. Currently, cross-verification of EVM-VVPAT happens only in five randomly selected polling booths in a constituency.

The ECI said there had been 41,629 instances of random verification till date. Over four crore VVPAT paper slips had been matched till date. There had not been a single instance of mismatch, the poll body claimed.

The ECI, on Thursday, said it would take a whole hour to count VVPAT of a single polling station.

“On an average, 1,000 VVPAT slips are required to be counted per polling station… The small size and special nature of the paper makes the slips sticky. Manual counting of VVPAT slips is cumbersome at every step. The process cannot be expedited or hurried,” the ECI said.

The manual counting of VVPAT slips involved manifold steps, including the verification of the unique ID of the VVPAT, opening the VVPAT dropbox, taking out the slips, counting them, matching the slips with the total number of votes polled, segregation of VVPAT slips candidate-wise, making candidate-wise bundles of 25 slips, and counting the bundles and leftover slips.

The ECI’s affidavit also provided a human perspective on why VVPAT slips’ counting cannot be hurried up.

“The overall environment in a counting centre is charged up and the counting personnel are under tremendous mental pressure. This is also a factor that affects the speed of counting of VVPAT slips,” the ECI said.

There were also instances of recounting and reverification of VVPAT slips till candidate-wise tallying was done. This would again consume time, the affidavit noted.

The ECI assured that there could not be any “mismatch” between votes polled and votes counted.

“Votes are registered in the control unit only after receiving the confirmation from VVPAT about the print and fall of the VVPAT paper slips… There is a ‘fall sensor’ in the VVPAT. In case the slip is not cut or does not fall into the ballot box, the VVPAT shows ‘fall error’ and no vote is recorded in the control unit,” the poll body explained.

The ECI said that both electors and machines had increased from 2019 to 2024. Polling stations had gone up from 10.35 lakh in 2019 to 10.48 lakh in 2024.

Similarly, the votes polled had increased from about 61.4 crore in 2019 to 97 crore registered voters in 2024.

The ECI explained that EVMs were constituted of ballot units, control units and VVPATs. All three units were sealed in the presence of candidates or their agents and stored in strong rooms after elections for a period of 45 days, the time for filing election petitions.

The ECI said there were 23.3 lakh ballot units in 2019 and their number was 21.6 lakh in 2024.

The number of control units were 16.35 lakh in 2019 and 16.8 lakh in 2024. The VVPATs had increased marginally from 17.4 lakh in 2019 to 17.7 lakh in 2024.

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