ECI Opposes Disclosure of Polling Station Voter Turnout Data to Avoid Confusion

Mainstream
23-May-2024
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The Election Commission of India (ECI) informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday that there is no legal obligation to publish final authenticated voter turnout data for all polling stations. The statement was made in response to an application filed by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which sought the disclosure of such data within 48 hours of polling during the Lok Sabha Elections 2024.

The ECI's affidavit argued that releasing voter turnout data based on Form 17C, which includes votes polled at each polling station, could cause confusion. This confusion arises because Form 17C figures are combined with postal ballot counts. The affidavit explained, "In any electoral contest, the margin of victory may be very close. In such cases, disclosure of Form 17C in the public domain may cause confusion in the minds of the voters with regard to the total votes polled as the latter figure would include the number of votes polled as per Form 17C as well as the votes received through postal ballots. However, such difference may not be easily understood by the voters and may be used by persons with motivated interests to cast aspersion on the whole electoral process ... cause chaos in the election machinery which is already in motion."

The ECI also criticized ADR, accusing the NGO of making baseless allegations to discredit its functioning. The affidavit stated, "There is a consistent malafide campaign/design/efforts to keep on raising suspicion and doubt in every possible manner and by misleading assertions and baseless allegations regarding the conduct of elections by the Election Commission of India ... the design and pattern in play is to spread doubts and damage is done by the time the truth ... comes out."

The ECI contended that ADR is asserting a legal right where none exists, especially during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. The poll body also referenced the Supreme Court's recent judgment on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) to highlight past strictures against ADR, noting the "tenor, language, design of the public messaging including tweets and social media posts made by the petitioner during many stages of hearing of the cases before the Supreme Court."

ADR's application was filed amid controversy over significant discrepancies between initial voter turnout estimates and final figures announced by the ECI for the first two phases of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. The data published on April 30 showed a 5-6% increase in final voter turnout compared to initial estimates, raising concerns among voters and political parties about the accuracy of the data.

ADR's plea sought directions for the ECI to upload scanned copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded) on its website after each polling phase, providing constituency and polling station-wise voter turnout figures in absolute numbers and percentages. Additionally, ADR requested the disclosure of Part-II of Form 17C, which details candidate-wise results after vote counting.

The Supreme Court had earlier asked the ECI to respond to ADR's plea. The next steps in the case will be closely watched as the Court evaluates the need for greater transparency in the electoral process.

Author: Anushka Taraniya 

News Writer, MIT ADT University