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No margin for error

No margin for error

It is not likely for an autonomous body of such reputation as the Election Commission of India (ECI), which is "always open to bringing about any improvements that would further the cause of free and fair elections", to resist the prayers regarding more VVPAT verifications. However, in the affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court of India following the petition filed by 21 political leaders of India, naturally belonging to the opposition parties, ECI has stated that the present method adopted by the body for counting and verification of votes is the "most suitable". ECI elaborated on how the Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) works, stating that VVPATs are used in conjunction with the EVMs. The VVPAT exposes the printed slip to the voter for a duration of seven seconds through a transparent window and thus, as per ECI, counting of these slips will only be necessary in case of a discrepancy between the results shown by the EVM and that reflected on the printed paper slip. ECI further responded on the specific prayer of cross verification of 50 per cent EVMs by stating how the average time required to undertake such verification would be "six days"; with some constituencies having more polling stations it may take up to 8-9 additional days, delaying the results of the elections. Complimenting this obstacle with an additional requirement of extensively trained personnel and large halls to undertake such an activity, ECI justified its resistance to the petition's prayer. To provide the apex court with a little aid in its verdict, ECI also stated how similar concerns had arisen earlier and that the court had found ECI's proceedings regarding VVPATs to be satisfactory. ECI cited a cent per cent accuracy of VVPATs during the 2017 assembly polls as well as the recent assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh. Statistically, a 50 per cent sample to adequately match VVPAT tallies with those of EVM is not necessary as per the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata. Its report on possible and appropriate VVPAT counts to the EC states that a sample verification of 479 EVMs would bring the level of confidence in the process to 99.9936 per cent. The current process of counting only one booth per constituency in each state is due to the presence of 10.35 lakh polling stations and 4,125 Assembly constituencies in the country. While ECI, logistically, may be stating the unadulterated version of its response but in a democracy, many may still argue the 50 per cent cross-verification process' feasibility. In all likelihood, a delay of six days on an average is something that the petitioners might settle for owing to their desperation to eradicate any margin for error. Displaying strong determination to prevent BJP from a second term, and having confidence in the voters to register a victory, it is certain that these opposition leaders don't want to leave any stone unturned in their pursuit. With the introduction of VVPAT which was specifically brought for an additional layer of accountability to the electoral process, ECI's argument for more manpower and days might not convince the petitioners and the general public. However, an increase in the counts might be the most likely solution. Even the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi strongly urged the deputy election commissioner present in the court that ECI should consider increasing the number of VVPAT verifications to enhance the purity and credibility of the democratic exercise. The matter is to be heard today in the apex court. While the opposition parties are strongly supporting the prayer to make the counting process more transparent, there is not a word from the ruling BJP. In front of an entire term of a government which will be decided based on the results of the mandate, a delay of the result by few days is completely justifiable. In fact, ECI should deduce, if not 50 per cent, some percentage which satisfies the apex court. This would increase ECI's credibility in front of people who may have concerns regarding ECI's resistance to the prayer. The process of vote counting is supposed to be sacrosanct and as such must be done with everyone's satisfaction to remove even an iota of doubt regarding any tampering - which is not impossible in case of EVMs. The very purpose of VVPATs is to ensure transparency, then why not exercise it?

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