Supreme Court asks Election Commission to look into allegation of EVM malfunctioning in Kerala [18.4.2024]

The Supreme Court on Thursday, emphasised the importance of sanctity in the electoral process, directing the Election Commission of India to provide a comprehensive account of the measures taken to ensure free and fair polls. 

The bench comprising Justice Sanjiv Khanna and Justice Dipankar Datta highlighted the critical nature of the electoral process, stating, "This is [an] electoral process. There has to be sanctity. Let nobody have apprehension that something which is expected is not being done."

The court is currently hearing petitions requesting the cross-verification of votes cast on Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) with paper slips generated through the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system. Senior Advocate Maninder Singh, representing the Election Commission (EC), along with other poll officials, are present in court to address the queries.

Advocate Nizam Pasha, appearing for one of the petitioners, said that voters should be allowed to take the VVPAT slip after casting their vote and deposit it in a ballot box. Responding to concerns about privacy, Pasha asserted, "Voter privacy cannot be used to defeat voter's rights."

Advocate Prashant Bhushan then suggested that the light on the VVPAT machine should remain on throughout the voting process instead of the current seven-second duration. "One possible solution is if they can't change glass at this stage, at least the light should remain on at all times, so I can see the slip cutting and falling. No privacy will be compromised," he argued.

Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, also representing petitioners, proposed a separate audit to enhance the credibility of the counting process.

During the proceedings, Bhushan highlighted a report on mock poll results in Kerala, where additional votes were recorded for the BJP. 

The court then asked Maninder Singh to explain this discrepancy.

Explaining the voting process, Singh, appearing on behalf of the poll body, stated that the EVM's control unit directs the VVPAT unit to print its paper slip, which remains visible to the voter for seven seconds before being deposited into a sealed box. The machines undergo pre-polling checks in the presence of engineers.

When questioned about the presence of software in the VVPAT printer, the Election Commission clarified that there is no such software. "There is a 4 megabyte flash memory in every PAT which stores symbols. The returning officer prepares an electronic ballot, which is loaded into the symbol loading unit. It will give a serial number, name of the candidate and symbol. Nothing is preloaded. It's not data, it's image format," it said.

On queries about the number of Symbol Loading Units created for polling, a poll body official stated that normally one is created per constituency, which remains in the custody of the Returning Officer until the conclusion of the poll. The court inquired about the sealing of these units to prevent tampering, to which the Election Commission replied that there is currently no such sealing process in place.

The Election Commission further informed the court that all voting machines undergo a mock poll process, wherein candidates are permitted to randomly select 5 per cent of the machines. This process is repeated on the day of the poll, where VVPAT slips are taken out, counted, and matched. Each machine is affixed with different paper seals, and the seal number can be checked when a machine is brought in for counting.

When asked how voters can verify if their votes have been cast correctly, the official stated that the poll body conducts demonstrations and awareness programs for this purpose. 

The Election Commission also clarified that voting machines are allocated to constituencies randomly to prevent the connection of spurious units, as they will only recognise sister units.

The Election Commission further explained to the court that the voting machines operate on firmware, and their program cannot be changed. The machines are stored in strongrooms, which are locked in the presence of political party representatives.

After polling concludes, the machines are returned to the strongrooms, which are sealed in the presence of candidates. On the day of counting, the strongrooms are opened in the presence of candidates, said the Election Commission.

18 Apr 2024