EC Silent on EVM and VVPAT Vote Count Mismatch in Telangana
The Election Commission of India (EC) is using Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in polling booths to counter the controversy over the tampering of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM). On the Supreme Court’s order, the EC has been randomly verifying 5 VVPATs per constituency in the Lok Sabha elections.
This was being done to restore voter confidence, but the petitions filed in the Telangana High Court have raised further concerns. The petitions say that during the Telangana Assembly elections in December 2018, the vote count of a few VVPATs did not tally with that of the EVMs.
Dasoju Sravan Kumar and DK Aruna, members of the Congress Party, filed petitions in the Telangana High Court pointing out the discrepancies in the VVPAT and EVM vote count. Kumar contested from Khairatabad constituency and Aruna from Gadwal constituency.
The petition filed by Aruna says,
“On the date of counting, ie, 11.12.2018, when VVPAT printed slips are (sic) counted as part of random checking, it was noticed by the Election agent of the petitioner, Mr Banala Krishna Murthy, that there were discrepancies and variance in terms of secured votes through EVM and printed slips of VVPATs.”
When Aruna’s polling agent discovered the discrepancy in the count, he requested the election agent to count VVPATs of all polling booths in Gadwal Assembly constituency, but the Returning Officer did not allow it.
On the same day, a specific request mandated under the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 was submitted to the Returning Officer by Aruna, but so far, no decision has been taken on the request.
A similar problem was cited by Kumar in his petition, where he says:
Here too, the Returning Officer refused to count VVPATs of all polling booths despite the petitioner’s request.
Possible Reasons For Mismatch In EVMs and VVPATs
1. Malfunction and Tampering
There can be no difference between the number of votes recorded by the EVMs and the VVPAT vote count because every time a voter presses the EVM button to vote, a printed slip containing the party symbol blinks on the VVPAT machine to assure the voter that the vote has gone to his/her choice of candidate.
VVPATs have been introduced to bring in transparency in the entire procedure. Now, when one vote on EVM means one printed slip in the VVPAT, then how did a mismatch happen in the above-mentioned Telangana constituencies?
“One of the reasons for the mismatch is malfunctioning and tampering of EVMs. The number of votes in the EVM cannot change until and unless someone tries to tamper with it. Hence, it is important that at least 50% of VVPATs are counted in the Lok Sabha Elections to achieve 99% accuracy in the vote count.”Ravi Shankar Jhandhyala - Petitioner’s lawyer
Recently, the Supreme Court has ordered the EC to count 5 VVPATs per constituency in the Lok Sabha Elections. And if there are any discrepancies in the number of votes in VVPATs and EVMs then the VVPAT count will prevail.
Experts say, counting 5 VVPATs per constituency is as good as not counting them because EC has declared that 10.35 lakh polling stations have been set up in the Lok Sabha elections – which translates to 2,000 polling stations per constituency. Will counting just 5 out of 2,000 VVPATs per constituency bring about any transparency?
2. Human Error
Some EC officers argue that mismatch might happen because of human error and not tampering.
“Before the polling starts, a mock poll is carried out by the Presiding Officer of the booth. During the mock poll, a minimum of 50 votes are cast just to check whether the EVM and VVPAT are not malfunctioning. There could be a human error that the election officer on duty forgot to delete the mock poll from EVM or VVPAT.”-Senior EC officer
But experts are not buying this explanation because after the mock poll is over, mock votes are deleted from EVMs and printed slips are removed from the VVPATs by the presiding officer in the presence of the polling agents of contestants from various political parties.
If mock votes were the reason behind the discrepancies in the VVPAT and EVM count then the polling agent of the contestant would have been aware of it.
Secondly, why didn’t the election agent clarify the reason behind the mismatch in the vote count on counting day, when repeated questions were raised by the polling agent of the petitioners?
Thirdly, why didn’t the Returning Officer act or reply to the petitioner’s request to count VVPATs of all polling booths in that particular constituency?
Fourthly, why didn’t the EC upload the number of votes counted in the VVPAT in the Telangana Assembly elections to maintain transparency?
Interestingly, till date the EC has not uploaded any data revealing the vote counted via VVPATs.
The petitioner Aruna has also mentioned in the petition that on the counting day, 10 EVMs of 10 polling stations malfunctioned because of which technicians were called in for assistance. Aruna claims that her polling agent was not permitted to be present when technical experts were recovering the votes from EVMs.
Aruna submitted an application to the Returning Officer requesting the VVPAT slips be counted in the concerned polling stations. But the Returning Officer neither allowed nor rejected the request of the petitioner.
In a likely response to the report, the EC removed the data regarding the number of votes polled only to upload a new data set a month later. And this time the two data sets matched. The Quint reached out to the EC but did not receive any response.
Now, with the mismatch in the EVMs and VVPAT vote count, EC has lot more to answer.
The Quint has written a set of questions to the EC related to the discrepancies in the votes counted in EVMs and VVPATs. This article will be updated if and when we receive a response.