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The court was hearing pleas seeking the tallying of all Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips to verify votes cast through Electronic Voting Machines.

The Election Commission on Thursday rejected claims that Electronic Voting Machines had registered extra votes in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party during a mock poll in Kerala, reported The Indian Express.

This was during a hearing in the Supreme Court on a batch of petitions seeking the tallying of all Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips to verify votes cast through Electronic Voting Machines.

The bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta reserved its verdict in the case, Live Law reported. The first phase of polling for the Lok Sabha elections begins on Friday.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing the non-governmental organisation Association for Democratic Reforms, told the court that a report published by Manorama Online had cited complaints raised in connection with the mock polls conducted using Electronic Voting Machines in Kerala’s Kasaragod Lok Sabha constituency.

The report said that the ruling Left Democratic Front in the state and the United Democratic Front had submitted complaints to the district collector stating that at least four of the Electronic Voting Machines had erroneously recorded extra votes in favour of the BJP.

In response, the court told Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, representing the Election Commission, to look into the claim. Later in the day, the poll panel told the court that it had received a report from the polling

The Election Commission also informed the court that the manufacturer of the Electronic Voting Machines did not know which button would be allocated to which candidate, or the constituency to which the machine would be sent, the newspaper reported.

The poll body told the court that it is impossible to tamper with the Electronic Voting Machines “at any stage”, reported The Hindu. Election officers press the “close” button on a control unit attached to the machine at the end of polling, after which the machines cannot accept any more votes. The presiding officers also record when the machine begins to accept votes and when it stops, the newspaper reported.

“After the close of polling…the ballot unit is disconnected from the control unit and kept separately in their carrying cases and sealed with paper slips on which the polling agents sign,” the Election Commission told the court. At the time of counting votes, the total number of votes recorded by the control unit is tallied with that of the ballot unit, the poll body said.

“If there is any discrepancy, the counting agents of the candidates can request the counting of VVPAT paper slips,” the Election Commission said.

The poll panel also told the court that there was no inconsistency between the votes polled and the declared results of the 2019 general elections, Live Law reported. The discrepancy was with the live voter turnout data uploaded on its website and not with the Electronic Voting Machines, the panel said.

The case

Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is a machine that prints a paper slip of the candidate’s name, serial number and the party’s symbol after a voter has cast their vote. To avoid election fraud, it displays the paper slip for seven seconds for the voters to check if their vote has been cast correctly, for their chosen candidate.

The paper slip then drops down to a locked compartment that only the polling agent can access. The slips are not handed over to the voters. The collected slips can be used to audit voting data stored electronically.

After a 2019 Supreme Court order, Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips from only five randomly selected polling stations in each Assembly segment are verified.

The court has been hearing petitions seeking 100% verification of the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail slips.

On Tuesday, Bhushan told the court that most European countries had gone back to ballot papers.

In response, Datta said that conducting elections in India was a humongous task that would not be possible for any European country to conduct. “We have to repose some trust and confidence in somebody,” he said. “Of course, they are accountable… But don’t try to bring down the system like this.”

Bhushan said that the petitioners were not claiming that the Electronic Voting Machines were being manipulated. “What we are saying is that EVMs [Electronic Voting Machines] can be manipulated because both EVM as well as the VVPAT [Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips] have a programmable chip.”

He also told the bench that the Election Commission had said that it could not share the source code of the Electronic Voting Machines chips as it was the intellectual property of the manufacturer.

The advocate claimed that the machines were assembled by two Public Sector Undertakings – the Electronics Corporation of India Limited and Bharat Electronics Limited – that had several members of the BJP as its directors.

Bhushan suggested allowing voters to physically take Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips and deposit it in the ballot box that would assure them that their vote had been recorded correctly.

Senior Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing another petitioner, submitted a news report citing Election Commission data from the 2019 Lok Sabha polls that highlighted a mismatch in the number of votes cast on the Electronic Voting Machines and the number of votes counted in some constituencies.

Sankaranarayanan said that “serious discrepancies” were seen in several constituencies which went to polls in the first phase of the election.

The bench, in response, said that such discrepancies might arise occasionally because the button would not have been pressed immediately. “Each candidate will be given that data,” Khanna said. “The candidates would have immediately challenged it.”

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