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In a significant remark which comes ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Supreme Court on Friday expressed surprise and concern at the number of petitions being filed raising doubts, casting aspersion on functioning of EVMs despite repeated adjudication of the issue.

"How many writ petitions will come and every time a new suspicion?" Justice Sanjiv Khanna asked Senior advocate Kapil Sibal and Prashant Bhushan who were jointly explaining a new application filed in the writ petition filed by Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) trying to draw the court's attention to certain "new issues" like a fresh YouTube video which has surfaced where a computer engineer proved EVMs can be hacked and the introduction of "darkened reflective glasses" on EVMs post-2017, resulting in voters being unable to see the VVPAT slips.

Sibal sought an early date saying the new application had issues never raised before the court. It is to be noted that ADR’s pending plea sought raising the quantum of VVPATs verification, be counted in more polling stations- if possible 100%, also sought a mechanism to provide an assurance to every voter that his/her vote has been ‘recorded as cast’.

In 2019, Supreme Court on a petition filed by Ex-Andhra Pradesh CM and TDP Chief Chandrababu Naidu had mandated that VVPATs of five randomly selected polling stations per Assembly seat should be done. Bhushan wants it enhanced to 100% VVPAT slips.

Justice Sanjiv Khanna had taken a serious view of ADR’s pending petition on the last date of hearing too asking, "How many times you will raise this issue? Are we not sometimes over suspicious?"

The new application

Explaining their "new application", Bhushan and Sibal explained about a YouTube video dated July 26, 2023 in which one Rahul Mehta a computer engineer showed how EVMs and VVPAT system can be hacked and apparently demonstrated it.

Bhushan also claimed that earlier voter could see the VVPAT slip through a transparent glass before it fell into the VVPAT ballot box but post 2017 the transparent glass has been replaced by a darkened reflective glass, so the voter cannot see it and verify the VVPAT slip before it fell into VVPAT ballot box.

The Bench not only refused to issue notice to the Election Commission of India on the new application but also denied a early hearing, posting it for further hearing in the week commencing March 18.

What the new application said

"Only way that the voter can verify that their vote has been ‘recorded as cast’ is when the VVPAT slip is displayed for about 7 seconds after the casting of the vote through a glass window before the VVPAT slip is cut and falls into the VVPAT Ballot Box.

"That on 26.07.2023, a YouTube published a video showing a demonstration by one Rahul Mehta who is a computer engineer which showed EVMs and VVPAT system can be hacked.

"That in the video it is stated that prior to June, 2017, all VVPATs had a transparent glass window through which the voter could see the print out of the symbol on VVPAT for the candidate for whom the voter had cast their vote and could see the VVPAT slip being cut and falling into the VVPAT Ballot Box. However, for unknown reasons, post June, 2017, the transparent glass window was replaced by a darkened reflective glass window in the VVPATs by the Election Commission of India.

"The video points out that this change in the colour of the glass from clear glass to a reflective darkened glass window leaves the VVPAT system open to the possibility of hacking as now the voter can only see inside of the window when a light is illuminated inside the window and cannot verify that the VVPAT slip which has been shown to him is in fact being ‘cut’ and is dropped into the VVPAT Ballot Box.

"It is stated in the video that this new physical change in the color of the glass window can be used to manipulate the election results by coding the software inside maliciously at the time of manufacturing of the machine or at the time of loading of the symbols of the candidates in the manner elaborated hereinafter and yet having the VVPAT count tally with the EVM count and results therefore leaving no trace of the manipulation as the people will be satisfied that VVPAT counts are matching with the EVM count and results."

ECI's stand

The Election Commission of India through its standing counsel Amit Sharma has already filed its response affidavit opposing the prayers put forth by ADR and also questioned the new application saying all issues have been responded to and all kind of doubts have already been cleared by the Commission.

"This is nothing but yet another attempt to cast aspersion, raise doubts on EVM/VVPAT system.. We are sure it will not be the last such petition before 2024 Lok Sabha election", said the ECI affidavit filed through Sharma.

Terming ADR’s plea as "misconceived and devoid of merits", ECI said the demand for 100% verification of VVPAT slips in EVMs is a "regressive thought" which will be equivalent to reverting to paper ballot

Voter has no 'fundamental right' to get his/her vote verified through VVPATs, that their vote has been 'recorded as cast' and 'counted as recorded', the ECI added.

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