Supreme Court notice to ECI on plea to tally all EVM votes with VVPAT, deposit VVPAT slips in ballot box

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The Supreme Court of India on Monday issued notice to the Election Commission of India (ECI) on a plea seeking a thorough count of Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips in elections.

As per the current practice, VVPAT verification is done only with respect to votes recorded in 5 randomly selected Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in each assembly segment.

The petitioner has prayed that each and every EVM vote should be tallied against VVPAT slips.

The petitioner has also sought a direction that voters should be allowed to physically drop the slips generated by the VVPAT in a ballot box to ensure that the voter’s ballot has been ‘counted as recorded’.

A bench of Justice BR Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta issued notice to ECI and tagged the plea along with other pending matters concerning EVM and VVPAT.

The plea filed by lawyer and activist Arun Kumar Agrawal has challenged the Election Commission’s guideline that mandates VVPAT verification to be conducted sequentially, i.e., one after the other, causing undue delay.

Justice BR Gavai and Justice Sandeep Mehta
The plea argued that conducting simultaneous verification and deploying additional officers for counting in each assembly constituency would enable complete VVPAT verification to be done within 5-6 hours.

“The petitioner is further seeking to quash and set aside of Guideline No. 14.7(h) of the Manual on Electronic Voting Machine and VVPAT dated August, 2023 as framed and issued by Election Commission of India in so far as it allows only sequential verification of VVPAT slips resulting in undue delay in counting of all VVPAT slips,” the plea stated.

The petition further argued that despite the government spending nearly ₹5,000 crores on the purchase of nearly 24 lakh VVPATs, slips from only around 20,000 VVPATs are verified.

Amidst the numerous concerns raised by experts regarding VVPATs and EVMs coupled with the significant number of reported discrepancies between EVM and VVPAT vote counts in the past, it is essential that all VVPAT slips be meticulously counted, the petitioner argued.

Additionally, the plea contended voters should be afforded the opportunity to thoroughly verify that their votes on the EVM are accurately accounted for, by allowing them to physically deposit their VVPAT slips in a ballot box.

Tallying of VVPAT slips with EVMs has always been a subject of contention.

Before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, leaders of around 21 opposition political parties had moved the apex court seeking VVPAT verification of at least 50 percent of all EVMs.

Back then, ECI used to tally only one random EVM per assembly segment with VVPAT.

On April 8, 2019, the apex court raised this number from 1 to 5 and disposed of the plea.

In May 2019, the Court dismissed a plea filed by some technocrats seeking VVPAT verification of all EVMs.

In July last year, the Supreme Court had remarked that public interest litigation (PIL) regarding election processes in the country sometimes cast too much suspicion on the sanctity of the election process.

The Court was hearing a plea by the Association for Democratic Reforms to tally VVPAT slips with votes cast through EVMs.

That plea is pending before the Court.

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