The Wire
The Wire Staff
New Delhi

"Within the ambit of a constitutional democracy, what possible motivation or justification can there be for this action?" Tamil Nadu Information Technology & Digital Services minister P. Thiaga Rajan questioned.

Tamil Nadu Information Technology & Digital Services minister P. Thiaga Rajan on Saturday, May 18 has asked for the Form 17-C (which records the number of votes polled in a booth) data to be released and questioned why the Election Commission of India (EC) is unable to publish the information since it is already available with the commission in “publishable form, as it is being submitted by each returning officer after the poll”.

In a post on X, Rajan said, “Most candidates (especially smaller or non-tech-savvy parties and independents) will simply not have the capacity to collect, collate, tabulate, and re-sort (by counting table) the Form 17 Data – EVM Serial, Total Votes Polled – from 1,500 to 2,000 booths per MP Constituency, ahead of the vote counting process.”

“Therefore, the entire counting process is immensely more robust and transparent if the Form 17 Data with these details is published as soon as possible after polling, and well ahead of the counting, so that every agent of every candidate in the counting centers knows exactly how many votes to expect be counted on each EVM, after the serial number of the machine has been matched with the booth. This will be especially helpful for candidates from smaller parties, and independent candidates,” he added, addressing the Supreme Court bench which is hearing the case filed by election-watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and the NGO Common Cause seeking direction that the EC should disclose the absolute numbers of the voter turnout immediately after each phase of Lok Sabha elections.

The Tamil Nadu minister underlined that publishing “this data (by booth) was the norm of the ECI till 2019 or so” and asked when they “mysteriously stopped” publishing it, “and took all old Form 17 data off their website”. “Within the ambit of a constitutional democracy, what possible motivation or justification can there be for this action?” Rajan questioned.

Notably, the EC has not released phase-wise or constituency-wise numbers of voters yet. According to the latest data released by the Election Commission on Thursday, May 16 the total turnout in the first four phases of the Lok Sabha elections has been recorded at 66.95%. Further, the commission added that 45.10 crore of the nearly 97 crore voters have voted so far in the ongoing elections.

Underlining that the commission already has the booth-wise data available, Rajan wrote: “How is the electoral process, and our democracy, even .0001% worse off if this data – which the ECI already has in directly publishable form, as it is being submitted by each Returning Officer after the poll – is published and made available to all ?? On the contrary, it will be immensely better off.”

“What possible reason can the ECI have for not publishing 543 sets of scanned pages of data – which was already collated and sent to them from every constituency – on their website now. As they used to!!! Anyone with basic interest in democracy, and integrity, must insist on the data being published well before counting. Anyone arguing against publishing it, patently has malintent. There can be no other justification,” the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader added. 

On Friday, May 17, the Supreme Court has given one week time to the EC to file its response to an application seeking directions to the EC to upload on its website the scanned copies of Form 17-C soon after the elections.

Turn-out updates by EC pushes votes up by 1.07 crore

The turnout numbers given by the EC for the first four phases of 2024 Lok Sabha polls, analysed by the Times Insight Group “reveals a 1.07 crore vote difference.” Moreover, the average rise per constituency is “28,000 votes” of the 379 seats that have polled.

The analysis has been carried out between numbers given by the EC on the same day as the polling each phase and then the final numbers made available by the Commission. Questions abound over why the EC is unable to give absolute numbers, per constituency after votes have been polled, and also on the steep rise in percentages too between on the day and the final percentages provided. 

EC got severe flak for sharing what it terms “approximate trends” which is pretty much final poll data (though still excluding postal data) for the first phase after 11 days. For the second, third and fourth phases, data was shared four days after voting. 

After also coming under fire for not sharing the actual numbers of votes polled, the EC eventually, after the first two phases, started sharing the total electors per constituency going to polls. So, this analysis has been arrived at by applying the voter percentages to state and constituency totals and coming up with numbers.

The analysis finds most variation in first voter trends cited and then subsequent ones in Andhra Pradesh, where 17.2 lakh voters increased, in Maharashtra, 16.7 lakhs, in Kerala, 11.4 lakh and in Assam, 10.3 lakh. The state-wise variation in terms of an average seat is steep in the case of Assam (73,571 votes per constituency), for Andhra Pradesh (68,800 votes on an average), for Kerala (57,000) and then for Maharashtra (47,714) and Karnataka (25,357). The seats in north India have seen lesser variations.

The total number of electors in India are 96.88 crore. EC in its May 16 release has said, “Lok Sabha Elections 2024 has seen the voter turnout at polling stations of about 66.95% so far, as approximately 451 million people have voted during the first four phases of ongoing General Elections.”

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