Indiscriminate disclosure of polling station-wise voter turnout data on website will cause chaos: EC to SC | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Indiscriminate disclosure of polling station-wise voter turnout data on website will cause chaos: EC to SC

PTI |
May 23, 2024 12:50 AM IST

Indiscriminate disclosure of polling station-wise voter turnout data on website will cause chaos: EC to SC

New Delhi, The Election Commission on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that "indiscriminate disclosure" of polling station-wise voter turnout data and posting it on website will cause chaos in the election machinery which is already in motion for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

Indiscriminate disclosure of polling station-wise voter turnout data on website will cause chaos: EC to SC
Indiscriminate disclosure of polling station-wise voter turnout data on website will cause chaos: EC to SC

The poll panel said that public posting of Form 17C - which gives the number of votes polled in a polling station - is not provided in the statutory framework and could lead to mischief and vitiation of the entire electoral space as it increases the possibility of the images being morphed.

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The EC also dismissed as false and misleading the allegation that the first two phases of the Lok Sabha elections saw an increase of "5-6 per cent" in the voter turnout data released on the day of polling and in the subsequent press releases for each of the two phases.

The Election Commission stated this in an affidavit filed in response to a plea of an NGO seeking a direction to the poll panel to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of the conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

"It is submitted that if the reliefs sought by the petitioner is allowed, it will not only be in teeth of the aforesaid legal position but will also cause chaos in the election machinery which is already in motion for the ongoing General Elections to the Lok Sabha, 2024," the poll panel said in its 225-page affidavit.

It said the petitioner NGO ‘Association of Democratic Reforms’ has failed to mention a single instance where candidates or voters had filed an election petition on the basis of the allegations raised by the petitioner with respect to the Lok Sabha election in 2019.

"This indicates that the allegation of discrepancies in voter turnout data made by the petitioner in the main petition as well as the present application is misleading, false and based on mere suspicion," it said.

The EC added that the legal regime with regard to Form 17C is peculiar in that while it authorises the polling agent at the close of the poll to get a copy of Form 17C, a general disclosure of the nature as sought by the petitioner is not provided in the statutory framework.

"It is submitted that a wholesome disclosure of Form 17C is amenable to mischief and vitiation of the entire electoral space.

"At the moment, the original Form 17C is only available in the Strong Room and a copy only with the polling agents whose signature it bears. Therefore, there is a one-to-one relationship between each Form 17C and its possessor," it said.

The poll panel added that "indiscriminate disclosure" and public posting on the website increases the possibility of the images being morphed, including the counting results which then can create widespread public discomfort and mistrust in the entire electoral process.

The poll panel said, "Further, it is submitted that the Petitioner has specifically relied on the voter turnout data published by the answering respondent with respect to the first two phases of the ongoing General Elections to the Lok Sabha, 2024 and has alleged that there was an increase of ~5-6% in the voter turnout data released on the day of polling and in the subsequent press releases for each of the two phases.

"In this regard, it is submitted that the aforesaid allegation is misleading and is unsubstantiated."

It added that the Rules do not permit the giving of a copy of Form 17C to any other entity.

"The contention of the petitioner creates a situation where any member of the public or the elector at the Polling Station can demand a copy of Form 17C on the argument that it partakes into a character of a public document," it said.

On May 17, the top court had sought a response within a week from the Election Commission on a plea by an NGO seeking a direction to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of the conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

The ADR had filed an interim application in its 2019 PIL seeking directions to the poll panel that "scanned legible copies of Form 17C Part-I " of all polling stations be uploaded immediately after the polls.

It said the plea was filed to ensure that the democratic process is not subverted by electoral irregularities.

"The voter turnout data for the first two phases of the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections published by ECI on April 30 has been published after 11 days of the first phase of polling... on April 19 and four days after the second phase of polling... on April 26.

"The data, as published by the ECI in its press release dated April 30, 2024, shows a sharp increase as compared to the initial percentages announced by ECI as of 7 pm on the day of polling," the plea claimed.

The petition said the "inordinate" delay in the release of the final voter turnout data, coupled with the unusually high revision has raised concerns and public suspicion regarding the correctness of the said data.

The non-release of the absolute number of votes polled coupled with the "unreasonable delay" in the release of votes polled data has led to apprehensions in the mind of the electorate about the sharp increase between initial data and data released on April 30, it said.

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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