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Explained: Form 17C & the Row Over EC's Voter Turnout Data in Absolute Numbers

The EC is under heavy fire for not releasing the absolute numbers of votes polled, unlike during the 2019 polls.

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"It is strange that the Election Commission of India (ECI) seems to think that elections are meant for candidates, their polling agents, and political parties alone. They don't think citizens have a role in the elections at all. The ECI is answerable to the Constitution, which has been given to us by ourselves – We the People of India," said Jagdeep Chhokar, founder of non-profit Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), while speaking to The Quint.

The ADR has filed an application in the Supreme Court calling for the publication of voter turnout data within 48 hours of the conclusion of polling of each phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. They have also urged the Supreme Court to direct the ECI to publish absolute numbers of votes polled and scanned copies of Form 17C, which includes data on the number of votes polled in each constituency and other vital information.

The NGO's arguments are based on purported sizeable differences between the initial voting percentages released by the EC after the conclusion of polling and the final voting figures published later. The difference in initial and final voting percentages was found to be around 6 percent in the first two phases – which translates to a revision of tens of thousands of votes in each constituency.

Explained: Form 17C & the Row Over EC's Voter Turnout Data in Absolute Numbers

  1. 1. Importance of Form 17C

    According to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, the ECI is required to maintain two forms that contain data on the total number of eligible voters and total votes polled. These are Form 17C and Form 17A.

    Form 17C includes details regarding each voter who casts their ballot at a polling booth. It has two parts – 1 and 2.

    Part 1 of Form 17C includes the following data:

    • Total number of electors assigned to a polling station

    • Total registered voters in a particular area

    • Number of voters who decided not to cast their ballots

    • Number of voters not allowed to vote

    • Total number of votes recorded in an EVM (electronic voting machine)

    • Data on ballot papers

    The EC is under heavy fire for not releasing the absolute numbers of votes polled, unlike during the 2019 polls.

    Sample of Form 17C Part 1.

    The data in this form is required to be entered by polling officials and approved by the Presiding Officer of each booth.

    Form 17C Part 2 is entered on counting day (in this case, 4 June). It includes a record of votes polled in favour of each candidate, and whether the total votes counted are matching with the number of votes polled (data included in Part 1 of Form 17C).

    The EC is under heavy fire for not releasing the absolute numbers of votes polled, unlike during the 2019 polls.

    Sample of Form 17C Part 2.

    Data in Form 17C is shared with candidates and their polling agents so that they can verify the results and the number of votes polled. In case of a discrepancy, they can approach the EC or file a petition in a court of law.

    Expand
  2. 2. Why is the EC Under Fire? 

    The EC has come under heavy fire from political activists and the Opposition for not releasing the absolute numbers of votes polled following each phase of the ongoing elections, unlike during the 2019 polls. Instead, the polling body has only been publishing voting percentages.

    "It is obvious to anybody who has studied arithmetic in class 4 that you cannot calculate percentages without the total numbers. Total numbers come first, then you calculate percentages. It is not understandable why they should not reveal the total numbers, which they were revealing till 2019 elections," Chhokar told The Quint.

    Another major point of concern has been the inordinate delays in publishing even the final voting percentages. Data for phase 1 polling was published 11 days after it was held, and data for phase 2 was published after four days.

    The difference between preliminary and final voting figures has come under massive scrutiny as well. The EC's preliminary data stated that there was a 60 percent turnout in the first phase and 60.96 percent in the second phase. However, when the final percentages were released, the polling figures stood at 66.14 percent and 66.71 percent, respectively (a difference of around 5-6 percentage points in both phases).

    Highlighting the issue, the Congress attacked the EC saying that there was a staggering difference of 1.07 crore between the preliminary data published by the EC and the final percentages released days later.

    "Voters are worried about the strange goings on in the EC through the four phases of voting. First, the Election Commission takes 10-11 days to bring out the final figure of voting and then the difference between real-time data and the final figure turns out to be 1.7 crore votes. This is truly unprecedented," Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera noted on X.

    Khera added that the difference in figures translated into 28,000 votes in each constituency.

    Similarly, Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge said that he had not witnessed such a dramatic and sudden increase in voting percentages in 52 years of electoral life.

    "On earlier occasions, the (Election) Commission has published voter turnout data within 24 hours of polling. What has it changed this time? Why has the Commission failed to issue any clarification to justify the delay, despite being repeatedly questioned by political parties as well as political activists?"
    Mallikarjun Kharge

    Meanwhile, both the Opposition and the ADR have called for the immediate publication of not only absolute numbers, but Form 17C as well to allay doubts over the alleged manipulation of electoral data.

    Expand
  3. 3. 'Publication of Form 17C Could Lead to Mischief': EC

    The EC in their affidavit in the Supreme Court stated, however, that it cannot make Form 17C public as there is no "legal mandate" to do so.

    "It is submitted that there is no legal mandate to provide the Form 17C to any person other than the candidate or his agent,” the polling body said.

    Further, it argued that the disclosure of Form 17C is amenable to "mischief" and "vitiation" of the entire electoral space as there is a possibility of images being morphed, including the counting results, which can create "widespread public discomfort and mistrust in the entire electoral processes."

    Explaining delays in publishing voter turnout data, the EC said that there are 2,000 to 3,000 polling booths in each Lok Sabha constituency, and that it takes time for polling officials to return to the EVM strong rooms.

    "The booths may be at far off places from the strong room. In certain constituencies, in some areas, sometimes it takes a lot of time to bring the sealed EVMs, copies of original Form 17C etc by each of the Presiding Officer of every booth to the strong room," the affidavit stated.

    Expand
  4. 4. 'EC's Argument Self-Defeating': ADR

    The arguments provided by the EC were, however, slammed by the petitioners as being "laughable" and "self-defeating".

    "The EC says there is no legal provision to give Form 17C to people at large, and they can only give it to candidates or their representatives. But at the same time there is no legal provision that it cannot be given," Chhokar told The Quint. "There is a provision in the conduct of election rules which says voters have a right to ask for any document and inspect that document. The EC seems to have conveniently forgotten that provision."

    He further said that the EC's argument that data on Form 17C can be fudged is valid for any document.

    "The EC gives Form 17C to polling agents and their candidates. A polling agent can manipulate the data and make it public. But if the EC publishes Form 17C on their website then nobody can mess with it. Anybody who wants to check can check there. Their [EC's] argument is self-defeating."
    Jagdeep Chhokar

    Similarly, Shivani Kapoor, legal manager of ADR, said that if the EC were so worried about absolute polling numbers being fudged, why did they continue publishing it till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?

    "The EC used to publish absolute numbers till the sixth phase of the 2019 general elections. But from the seventh phase onwards they stopped giving the voter turnout in numbers and instead started giving it in percentages. Even one decimal can make a difference," she told The Quint.

    Expand
  5. 5. Is Filing an RTI a Futile Exercise?

    In the absence of required data in the public domain, one may file an RTI (Right to Information) application with the relevant authorities. However, even that has turned out to be a futile exercise amid the ongoing electoral controversy.

    Poonam Agarwal, an investigative journalist, filed an RTI application with the ECI earlier this month asking for data on the absolute numbers of votes polled.

    "In its reply, the EC said they don't have the information, adding that it might be available with the Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) of different states and Union Territories," she told The Quint.

    Subsequently, author Aniket Aga filed an RTI with the CEO of Puducherry asking for the absolute number of votes polled. In its reply, however, the CEO said that the data will be made public after the voting process is over.

    "The ECI seems determined to block citizens from auditing the election process, even in violation of the RTI Act," he took to X to say.

    In a story she did for The Quint in May 2019, Agarwal had found discrepancies in 373 constituencies that went to the polls in the first four phases of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Of the 373 constituencies, there were surplus votes counted in over 220 of them and deficits recorded in the remaining seats.

    "I could do the story highlighting discrepancies in the 2019 polls because I had the absolute numbers of votes with me," she said, adding, "What people want is transparency. This is not just any election – it's Lok Sabha. All of us have the right to know whether the election process is free and fair."

    Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Friday, 24 May, refused to pass an interim order directing the EC to publish absolute numbers of votes polled, and adjourned the hearing till after the Lok Sabha elections.

    Speaking to The Quint ahead of the hearing, ADR legal manager Shivani Kapoor had said, "The ideal verdict would be that the Supreme Court orders the EC to make absolute numbers and Form 17C public – and that should be directed immediately."

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Importance of Form 17C

According to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, the ECI is required to maintain two forms that contain data on the total number of eligible voters and total votes polled. These are Form 17C and Form 17A.

Form 17C includes details regarding each voter who casts their ballot at a polling booth. It has two parts – 1 and 2.

Part 1 of Form 17C includes the following data:

  • Total number of electors assigned to a polling station

  • Total registered voters in a particular area

  • Number of voters who decided not to cast their ballots

  • Number of voters not allowed to vote

  • Total number of votes recorded in an EVM (electronic voting machine)

  • Data on ballot papers

The EC is under heavy fire for not releasing the absolute numbers of votes polled, unlike during the 2019 polls.

Sample of Form 17C Part 1.

The data in this form is required to be entered by polling officials and approved by the Presiding Officer of each booth.

Form 17C Part 2 is entered on counting day (in this case, 4 June). It includes a record of votes polled in favour of each candidate, and whether the total votes counted are matching with the number of votes polled (data included in Part 1 of Form 17C).

The EC is under heavy fire for not releasing the absolute numbers of votes polled, unlike during the 2019 polls.

Sample of Form 17C Part 2.

Data in Form 17C is shared with candidates and their polling agents so that they can verify the results and the number of votes polled. In case of a discrepancy, they can approach the EC or file a petition in a court of law.

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Why is the EC Under Fire? 

The EC has come under heavy fire from political activists and the Opposition for not releasing the absolute numbers of votes polled following each phase of the ongoing elections, unlike during the 2019 polls. Instead, the polling body has only been publishing voting percentages.

"It is obvious to anybody who has studied arithmetic in class 4 that you cannot calculate percentages without the total numbers. Total numbers come first, then you calculate percentages. It is not understandable why they should not reveal the total numbers, which they were revealing till 2019 elections," Chhokar told The Quint.

Another major point of concern has been the inordinate delays in publishing even the final voting percentages. Data for phase 1 polling was published 11 days after it was held, and data for phase 2 was published after four days.

The difference between preliminary and final voting figures has come under massive scrutiny as well. The EC's preliminary data stated that there was a 60 percent turnout in the first phase and 60.96 percent in the second phase. However, when the final percentages were released, the polling figures stood at 66.14 percent and 66.71 percent, respectively (a difference of around 5-6 percentage points in both phases).

Highlighting the issue, the Congress attacked the EC saying that there was a staggering difference of 1.07 crore between the preliminary data published by the EC and the final percentages released days later.

"Voters are worried about the strange goings on in the EC through the four phases of voting. First, the Election Commission takes 10-11 days to bring out the final figure of voting and then the difference between real-time data and the final figure turns out to be 1.7 crore votes. This is truly unprecedented," Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera noted on X.

Khera added that the difference in figures translated into 28,000 votes in each constituency.

Similarly, Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge said that he had not witnessed such a dramatic and sudden increase in voting percentages in 52 years of electoral life.

"On earlier occasions, the (Election) Commission has published voter turnout data within 24 hours of polling. What has it changed this time? Why has the Commission failed to issue any clarification to justify the delay, despite being repeatedly questioned by political parties as well as political activists?"
Mallikarjun Kharge

Meanwhile, both the Opposition and the ADR have called for the immediate publication of not only absolute numbers, but Form 17C as well to allay doubts over the alleged manipulation of electoral data.

'Publication of Form 17C Could Lead to Mischief': EC

The EC in their affidavit in the Supreme Court stated, however, that it cannot make Form 17C public as there is no "legal mandate" to do so.

"It is submitted that there is no legal mandate to provide the Form 17C to any person other than the candidate or his agent,” the polling body said.

Further, it argued that the disclosure of Form 17C is amenable to "mischief" and "vitiation" of the entire electoral space as there is a possibility of images being morphed, including the counting results, which can create "widespread public discomfort and mistrust in the entire electoral processes."

Explaining delays in publishing voter turnout data, the EC said that there are 2,000 to 3,000 polling booths in each Lok Sabha constituency, and that it takes time for polling officials to return to the EVM strong rooms.

"The booths may be at far off places from the strong room. In certain constituencies, in some areas, sometimes it takes a lot of time to bring the sealed EVMs, copies of original Form 17C etc by each of the Presiding Officer of every booth to the strong room," the affidavit stated.

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'EC's Argument Self-Defeating': ADR

The arguments provided by the EC were, however, slammed by the petitioners as being "laughable" and "self-defeating".

"The EC says there is no legal provision to give Form 17C to people at large, and they can only give it to candidates or their representatives. But at the same time there is no legal provision that it cannot be given," Chhokar told The Quint. "There is a provision in the conduct of election rules which says voters have a right to ask for any document and inspect that document. The EC seems to have conveniently forgotten that provision."

He further said that the EC's argument that data on Form 17C can be fudged is valid for any document.

"The EC gives Form 17C to polling agents and their candidates. A polling agent can manipulate the data and make it public. But if the EC publishes Form 17C on their website then nobody can mess with it. Anybody who wants to check can check there. Their [EC's] argument is self-defeating."
Jagdeep Chhokar

Similarly, Shivani Kapoor, legal manager of ADR, said that if the EC were so worried about absolute polling numbers being fudged, why did they continue publishing it till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections?

"The EC used to publish absolute numbers till the sixth phase of the 2019 general elections. But from the seventh phase onwards they stopped giving the voter turnout in numbers and instead started giving it in percentages. Even one decimal can make a difference," she told The Quint.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Is Filing an RTI a Futile Exercise?

In the absence of required data in the public domain, one may file an RTI (Right to Information) application with the relevant authorities. However, even that has turned out to be a futile exercise amid the ongoing electoral controversy.

Poonam Agarwal, an investigative journalist, filed an RTI application with the ECI earlier this month asking for data on the absolute numbers of votes polled.

"In its reply, the EC said they don't have the information, adding that it might be available with the Chief Electoral Officers (CEOs) of different states and Union Territories," she told The Quint.

Subsequently, author Aniket Aga filed an RTI with the CEO of Puducherry asking for the absolute number of votes polled. In its reply, however, the CEO said that the data will be made public after the voting process is over.

"The ECI seems determined to block citizens from auditing the election process, even in violation of the RTI Act," he took to X to say.

In a story she did for The Quint in May 2019, Agarwal had found discrepancies in 373 constituencies that went to the polls in the first four phases of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Of the 373 constituencies, there were surplus votes counted in over 220 of them and deficits recorded in the remaining seats.

"I could do the story highlighting discrepancies in the 2019 polls because I had the absolute numbers of votes with me," she said, adding, "What people want is transparency. This is not just any election – it's Lok Sabha. All of us have the right to know whether the election process is free and fair."

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Friday, 24 May, refused to pass an interim order directing the EC to publish absolute numbers of votes polled, and adjourned the hearing till after the Lok Sabha elections.

Speaking to The Quint ahead of the hearing, ADR legal manager Shivani Kapoor had said, "The ideal verdict would be that the Supreme Court orders the EC to make absolute numbers and Form 17C public – and that should be directed immediately."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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