Source: 
Sabrang India
https://sabrangindia.in/eci-faces-ire-over-lack-of-transparency-and-discrepancy-in-poll-data-the-poll-body-dismisses-the-allegations-in-a-detailed-response/
Author: 
SABRANGINDIA
Date: 
10.05.2024
City: 

Opposition parties including Congress, CPI (M), and TMC have targeted ECI over discrepancy and delay in releasing data for the first two phases of the Lok Sabha election 2024.

Introduction

It took the Election Commission of India (ECI) 11 days to release the polling data on its website for the first phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha election 2024, the voting for which concluded on April 19. Similarly, it took 4 days for the Commission to upload the voter turnout data for the second phase, which concluded on April 26. The ECI uploaded the voter turnout data on April 30 for both the first and second phases of elections on its website, drawing criticism from the opposition parties over the delay. The parties also questioned the ECI over wide discrepancy between the tentative estimated data and the subsequent increase in total voting percentage.  ECI had tentatively estimated that around 60% of the registered voters had casted their votes in the first and second phases of the election as on 7PM at the end of the polling on April 19 and April 26 respectively. In the final data that it uploaded on April 30, the figures touched 66.14% and 66.71% respectively, an increase of almost 6%.

Parties have also noted that the data released does not mention total number of votes cast in each Parliamentary Constituency and Assembly Segment, as recorded in Form 17C under Rule 49S of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961. Importantly, true copy of Form 17C is provided to every candidate through their polling agent at the close of the poll. On May 7, the ECI uploaded the tentative voter turnout data for the third phase of the election, noting that the Commission has “recorded an approximate voter turnout of 64.4% as of 11:40 pm”. Interestingly, it released another press note on the next day, in which the ECI said that “The updated approximate voter turnout figures for polling in third phase of General Elections stands at 65.68% at 10 pm on 08.05.2024”.

The representative copy of the Form 17C can be found here:

In a letter sent to INDIA block alliance partners, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge wrote that “On earlier occasions, the Commission has published voter turnout data within 24 hours of polling. What has changed this time? Why has the Commission failed to issue any clarification to justify the delay, despite being repeatedly questioned by political parties and political activists?” He also expressed his concern over the polling data for the third phase of the election, saying, “it is extremely disconcerting to know, through various media reports, that even the final registered voters’ list from the third phase onwards is also not released. All these developments cast a dark shadow on the functioning of the Election Commission of India.”

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury also sent a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner of the ECI, Rajiv Kumar,  in which he said, “Unfortunately, the ECI has not come out with any explanation for the cause of this undue delay. What goes unanswered is also a surge of 6 per cent from the initial figures that the ECI put out and the final figure. While it is plausible that there may be a slight variation between the initial and the final figures, this variation of six percent is unusual and raises some suspicion. Also, while the percentages have been disclosed, the voting figures (number of votes polled) have not yet been provided.

Furthermore, the analysis of the ECI website reveals that the notices sent by the ECI to the political leaders and parties for the violations of the MCC are only available till November 13, 2023, and details prior to that period under “Current Issues” is unavailable.

ADR moves Supreme Court to direct immediate disclosure of the poll data

On May 10, 2024, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) filed an interlocutory application (IA) as part of the writ petition (W.P.(C) No. 1382 of 2019) in the Supreme Court (SC) asking the court to issue direction to the ECI to immediately disclose the absolute numbers of votes polled in the ongoing Lok Sabha election, LiveLaw reported. The interlocutory application demands that “In order to uphold the voter’s confidence it is necessary that the ECI be directed to disclose on its website scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part- I (Account of Votes Recorded) of all polling stations which contains the authenticated figures for votes polled, within 48 hours of the close of polling.” In addition, the application also asks ECI to provide “… a tabulation of constituency-wise figures of voter turnout in absolute numbers in the on-going 2024 Lok Sabha election” (ibid.). Furthermore, it calls for ECI to upload on its website “scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part- II which contains the candidate-wise Result of Counting after the compilation of results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.”

Election Commission responds to INC charge on voter turnout data

The EC has rebutted the allegations put forth by the INC president Mallikarjun Kharge regarding the discrepancy in voter turnout data and the delay in the release of the updated polling data. The Election Commission hit back at the Congress noting that the “it is discernable that under the guise of need to seek clarifications from the Election Commission of India, in effect, you have articulated statements which are actually verifiable and thus within knowledge to be incorrect, aimed at pushing a biased narrative…”.

ECI provided a point-to-point rebuttal of the allegations, the details for which is provided below as quoted from the ECI response:

  1. Question 1: On 30th April 2024, the Election Commission released the final voter turnout data for the first 2 phases of elections for the 2024 Lok Sabha. The data was released 11 days after the first phase of polling (19th April 2024) and 4 days after the Second Phase (26th April ‘2024). In this regard our first question for the Election Commission is – Why did the Commission delay the release of voter turnout data?

Question 2: On earlier occasions the Commission has published voter turnout data within 24 hours of polling. What has 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? Is there an issue with the EVMs?

ECI Response: “It is incorrect assertion about any delay and denied upfront. The Commission…to facilitate public at large, has created “Voter Turnout App” which is available in public domain for anybody to download where voter turnout of every PC (to the level of assembly segments/constituency), every State and every Phase of election are displayed live. The “Voter Turnout App” displays estimated approximate voter turnout on poll day every two hours (9:30 am, 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 3:30 pm, 5:30 pm), then it displays live updation of estimated approximate voter turnout from 7:00 pm onwards till mid-night, as further reports are received from the field. Thus, there is no delay in publication of data for a constituency or a State on voter turnout application. Issuance of press note on 30th April 2024 was nothing but presenting the data already displayed and available in App live. It is thus not a delay.”

  1. Question 3 and 4: Why was there a delay and wide discrepancy between the reported turnout of 60% at 7PM for the first two phases of the election cycle and the updated final turnout figure of close to 65-66% for the same phases?

ECI Response: “The facts presented are denied as incorrect and false. Assembly segment wise, PC wise and State/UT wise voter turnout data is available during all the three phases at Voter Turnout App continuously. Newspapers have actually reported turnout as per updation on the App. As a sample, newspaper cuttings of Times of India are at Annexure 3. for Phase- 1 (20th April) and at Annexure 4 for Phase-2 (27th April 2024) reporting voter turnout figure as 64% and 64.7% respectively.”

“Voter turnout data will definitely increase from 7 pm data due to following reasons:

  • There is always time lag in reporting of estimated data on poll day
  • Voters continue to vote even after 6:00 pm in long queue at many polling stations and can be verified by actual close of poll time recorded.
  • As polling parties arrive late night and report, data gets updated with actual numbers from Form 17C, replacing estimated voter turnout recorded on poll day, on P+1 day after scrutiny conducted in presence of candidates and observers, and even P+2 or P+3 day due to difficult geography and weather conditions.
  • Repoll data gets updated on conclusion of repoll, if ”
  1. Question 5: Apart from the delay, the voter turnout data released by the Commission does not mention crucial yet related figures, such as the votes polled in each Parliamentary Constituency and in the respective Assembly Constituencies? If the voter turnout data was published within 24 hours of voting along with the crucial figures, then we would have known if the increase (of -5%) had been witnessed across constituencies? Or only in constituencies where the ruling regime had not performed well in the 2019 elections?

ECI Response: “The premise that there was an increase of 5 % is incorrect as stated in answer to Question 3-4. The PC wise data was available on Voter turnout App from poll day onwards. Uptick in voter turnout data is, hence, not malicious as being alleged but part of the standard operating procedure and has always been so as in Table at Annexure I. This is completely baseless allegation.” “Moreover, since the data is now available even through press note, you may proceed to do analysis constituency wise to find out correlations as alleged.”

  1. Question 6: Is it not true that, according to some media reports, the final registered voters list of the next phases has not been made public? Will the EC/ be made answerable for this glaring mismanagement in basics in conducting the elections?

ECI Response: “Electoral roll is prepared for a constituency. Electoral roll of a PC is aggregate of electoral roll of assembly constituencies contained in a PC, according to the delimitation order. Electoral roll for each constituency is provided to recognized political parties free of cost…The exact data of elector, votes polled is available with each candidate as per detailed statutory/ Regulatory framework envisaging involvement of political parties/ Candidates to know data about electors and voters during electoral cycle given in Annexure 5”. “There is no legal provision or system to share any aggregate data of electors by the Commission. However, the Commission has already released phase wise elector data through the press note and will continue to provide phase wise elector data for public at large for every phase.”

The copy of the ECI response can be found here:

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