ECI’s claims of ‘delay, legal mandate’ in releasing voter turnout data contradict its rulebooks

Rulebooks present on the ECI website counter the claims made by the commission in the Supreme Court for release of Form 17C

By Kedar Nadella  Published on  24 May 2024 5:11 AM GMT
ECI’s claims of ‘delay, legal mandate’ in releasing voter turnout data contradict its rulebooks

Hyderabad: After allegations of lack of transparency by the Election Commission of India (ECI) reached the Supreme Court, the ECI informed the court that it has no legal mandate to release Form 17C to the public apart from the polling agents and the contesting candidates. Form 17C contains the records of votes polled at each polling station

The ECI also informed the court that the delay in submitting final numbers is because it takes time to collate the 17C data.

Rulebooks counter ECI’s claim

However, rulebooks present on the ECI website counter the claims made by the commission in the Supreme Court.

According to The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, section 93 (production and inspection of election papers) ‘all other papers relating to the election shall be open to public inspection and copies thereof shall on application be furnished.’

Similarly, regarding the ECI’s claim about the delay in submitting the Form 17C data, according to the Handbook of the Returning Officer, 2023, section 13.47 (close of poll) ‘when the close button is pressed, display panels on the Control Unit will show the total number of votes recorded in the voting machine till the end of the poll (but not the candidate-wise tally). The total number of votes recorded in the machine should be immediately noted in Item 6 of Part I of Form 17C.’

“Unlike rural areas, there is very little chance in urban areas where ample transportation and other facilities are available that there could be a delay in submitting the data to the authorities concerned,” said social activist Imran Siddiqui. Forms 17A and 17C are submitted by 9 pm at best, he added.

Substantial increase in voter turnout numbers in ECI data

The recent reports of a substantial increase in the voter turnout numbers (around 1.7 crore polled votes more) in the various versions released by the ECI have caused quite a stir among Opposition leaders and civil society members.

“Going by the latest polling data released by the ECI on the phases of polling done so far, it is possible that in the states where the BJP perceives it has less strength such as Maharashtra and Orrisa, the numbers might have substantially increased, at least by 6 per cent,” Imran said.

But it is hard to confirm the numbers since the ECI has only been releasing the data in percentages and not in absolute numbers which don’t give the complete picture, he said and added that even the polling agents may not have received the data from the ECI yet.

Imran also refuted the claims made by the ECI in the Supreme Court in the petition filed by the Association for Democratic Rights (ADR) that releasing data based on Form 17C will cause confusion in public since there are chances of ‘mischief’ through the manipulation of images.

‘Logically flawed and inherently inconsistent’

The National Alliance for Justice, Accountability & Rights (Najar), a civil society of legal professionals promoting democratic values, also appealed for full and fair disclosure of voter turnout data by ECI.

“Najar strongly disagrees with and disapproves the affidavit filed by the ECI, in the ongoing case before the Supreme Court, regarding disclosure of voter turnout data. ECI has taken a stand that publication of the absolute number of polled votes should remain secret till the declaration of results. The affidavit, we earnestly feel, is logically flawed, inherently inconsistent and contrary to the manner in which persons representing the constitutional body are expected to uphold the law. The arguments put forth by ECI are antithetical to the right to information of citizens, as upheld by the Supreme Court in multiple instances,” the forum said in a public notice.

We wish to state that transparency is an essential element of democracy, not secrecy as claimed by ECI in its affidavit, the notice said.

“Previously the ECI has taken the stand that data is collected in real time and that is why it is dynamic in nature. It is, therefore, obvious that ECI collects data and there is no way ECI could have calculated percentage without a total tally of polled votes, as against total votes,” the notice said.

“The ECI must immediately disclose through its website, the authenticated record of voter turnout as contained in Part-I of Form 17-C, to ensure transparency and citizen’s trust in the electoral process,” the forum demanded.

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