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Nupur Dogra

Supreme Court will hear plea flagging 5-6% discrepancy between final voter turnout data and polling day data released by the ECI in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls, here's all you need to know about Voter-Turnout Data controversy

The Supreme Court will resume hearing on Friday the petition filed by the Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR) flagging 5-6% increase in final voter turnout data as compared to the initial percentages announced on the day of polling by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. Here's all you need to know about the Voter-Turnout Data controversy, ADR's petitions and ECI's contentions.

What Is the Voter-Turnout Data Controversy?

The petitioners state that in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, the ECI published voter turnout data after a delay of several days. The data regarding the first phase of polling held on April 19 was published after 11 days, whereas the data regarding the second phase of elections held on April 26 was published after 4 days. 

They have flagged the variation of over 5-6% in the final voter turnout data published by the ECI against the initial voter turnout data released on the polling day. 

Counsel for ADR, Prashant Bhushan while arguing in court in the last hearing submitted in the top court that Citizens are aggrieved as they doubt EVMs are being replaced and Suddenly there is a rise of 6% in voter turnout data.

The petition prays for the following directions from the top court to ECI:  

  • ECI should immediately upload on its website scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I (Account of Votes Recorded) of all polling stations after close of polling of each phase in the on-going Lok Sabha elections
  • ECI should provide tabulated polling station-wise data in absolute figures of the number of votes polled as recorded in Form 17C Part- I after each phase of polling in the on-going 2024 Lok Sabha elections and also a tabulation of constituency-wise figures of voter turnout in absolute numbers in the on-going Lok Sabha polls
  • ECI should 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 Lok Sabha elections.

On May 17, a bench of Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justices JB Pardiwala, Manoj Misra asked ECI to file its reply as to why Form 17C data could not be disclosed. 

What Is Form 17 C In Electoral Process?

The Form 17C contains the account of votes polled in each polling station and can be used in case of a legal disputes related to the poll result. The Form 17C contains the identification numbers of the EVMs, the total number of electors at that booth, the total number of voters at that booth, the total number of voters who decided to not cast their votes after signing the register, the number of voters who were not allowed to vote, and the total number of votes recorded per EVM.

According to the ECI, Form 17C can only be given only to the polling agent and rules do not permit disclosing of Form 17C to any other entity.

Why ECI Refuses To Publish Form 17C? 

The ECI in its response in the Supreme Court has described ADR's plea as another attempt to create suspicion and discredit the electoral process. The poll panel further told the top court that public posting of Form 17C is not mandated by any statutory framework and changing the process midway in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections could lead to chaos in the election machinery. 

"It is respectfully reiterated that another attempt to create a mala fide suspicion and integrity of the election process by the same petitioner (ADR) by making untrue and false allegations for achieving its true design of discrediting the electoral process by creating false narratives." ECI told the top court.

ECI explained in its 225 pages long reply that it classifies Voter Turnout Disclosure into two categories - statutory (where Form 17C is given to polling agents), and non-statutory (where data is disclosed through ECI application, website and press releases).

It contends that there is no legal mandate to provide Form 17C data to any person other than the candidate or his agent.

With regards to voter-turnout data released on the polling day through its Voter Turnout App at 2-hours intervals, the ECI said that it has always maintained that those numbers are tentative as the exercise is voluntary.

The response also attached ECI's press releases stating that the voter-turnout data released on the day of polling is tentative in nature. 

The poll panel said that public posting of Form 17C could lead to mischief and increases the possibility of the images being morphed.

In its reponse the ECI also contended that under Article 329(b) of the Constitution, judicial interference in electoral process is barred from the date of notification till declaration of results.

The ECI also explained the complications and infrastructural constraints in uploading Form 17C and implimenting these prayers of petitioners midway in the elections.

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