Supreme Court Issues Notice to Election Commission Over VVPAT Verification

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The petitioner has also written to the ECI, requesting a VVPAT receipt, stating that, “I am not given any physical proof of how I have voted or whether my vote has been actually counted as I have voted”

In a significant development, the Supreme Court has issued a notice to the Election Commission of India (ECI) on a writ petition demanding mandatory cross-verification of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips.

The petition, filed by lawyer and activist Arun Kumar Agrawal, seeks a direction to ensure that all VVPAT slips are counted alongside the votes cast electronically. Advocate Neha Rathi argued for a comprehensive count of VVPAT slips, challenging the current practice of verifying only five randomly selected EVMs through VVPAT paper slips.

The plea stated, “the “paper trail” is an indispensable requirement of free and fair elections. The confidence of the voters in the EVMs can be achieved only with the introduction of the “paper trail”. EVMs and VVPAT system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With an intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system because vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in democratic system.”

It was further contended that the veracity of concerns regarding election rigging holds little significance; what matters is that the potential for rigging is widely perceived by both the general public and the informed. Suspicions of manipulation span various stages: from the initial 'preloading of symbols' to potential errors in the central unit's vote recording, from allegations of VVPAT programming favouritism to doubts about proper paper vote handling, including cutting and dropping into drop boxes for each voter. Concerns extend to possible EVM tampering during transit, inadequate battery charging during lengthy polling periods, and even the threat of hacking via Bluetooth, internet, or spyware.

Additionally, the petitioner seeks to annul and invalidate Guideline No. 14.7(h) of the Manual on Electronic Voting Machine and VVPAT, issued by the ECI in August 2023, which permits only sequential verification of VVPAT slips, causing unnecessary delays in counting. Furthermore, the petitioner seeks a directive allowing voters to physically deposit VVPAT slips into a ballot box to ensure their votes are accurately tallied.

The petition proposes simultaneous VVPAT verification by deploying more personnel for counting in each constituency, estimating that this method could complete the verification process in five to six hours.

Highlighting the significant investment made by the government in purchasing VVPATs, the petition notes the discrepancy between the number of VVPATs purchased, amounting to nearly Rs. 5,000 crore for 24 Lakh VVPATs and the actual number of slips verified, amounting to approximately 20,000 VVPATs. It raises concerns about reported discrepancies between EVM and VVPAT vote counts in the past.

Notably, the petitioner has also written to the ECI, requesting a VVPAT receipt, stating that, “I am not given any physical proof of how I have voted or whether my vote has been actually counted as I have voted.”

To address these concerns, the petition suggests allowing voters to physically drop VVPAT slips into a ballot box to ensure that their votes are accurately recorded. Alternatively, it proposes making the glass of the VVPAT machine transparent and extending the duration of the light to allow voters to witness the paper recording their votes being dropped into the drop box, thereby enhancing voter confidence.

“That elections, like justice, should not only be free and fair but should also be seen to be fair. This can be very easily achieved and all the doubts of the voters set to rest by the ECI,” the plea noted.


Cause Title: Arun Kumar Agrawal vs Election Commission of India [WP Civil 184 of 2024]