SC Seeks Responses from Centre, ECI on Plea for Full Count of VVPAT Slips in Elections

The Supreme Court has sought responses from both the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the Centre in response to a plea seeking a full count of VVPAT slips in elections, rather than the current practice of verifying only five randomly-selected EVMs through VVPAT paper slips.

The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is an independent system for verifying votes that enables voters to confirm if their vote was accurately cast. This system generates a paper slip visible to the voter, which is then stored in a sealed cover and can be opened if a dispute arises.

On April 8, 2019, the Supreme Court had directed the Election Commission to increase the number of EVMs undergoing VVPAT physical verification from one to five per assembly segment in a parliamentary constituency.

A bench comprising justices B R Gavai and Sandeep Mehta acknowledged the arguments put forth by lawyers representing activist Arun Kumar Agrawal, who was seeking a complete count of VVPAT slips in elections, contrary to the current practice of verifying only five randomly-selected EVMs through VVPAT paper slips. Notices were issued to both the Election Commission (EC) and the central government regarding the plea, which may be scheduled for a hearing on May 17.

The plea challenged the Election Commission’s guideline that mandates sequential VVPAT verification, one after the other.

It argued that if simultaneous verification is conducted and more officers are deployed for counting in each assembly constituency, complete VVPAT verification could be achieved within five to six hours.

The plea also pointed out that despite the government spending nearly Rs 5,000 crore on the purchase of nearly 24 lakh VVPATs, currently only approximately 20,000 VVPAT slips are being verified.

Given the numerous questions raised by experts regarding VVPATs and EVMs, and the significant number of discrepancies between EVM and VVPAT vote counts reported in the past, the plea emphasized the importance of counting all VVPAT slips. It stressed that voters should be given the opportunity to verify that their vote as cast in the ballot is also counted by allowing them to physically deposit their VVPAT slip in the ballot box.

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About the Author: Nunnem Gangte