In a bid to further reinforce the credibility of electronic voting machines, the Election Commission (EC) has decided to mandatorily tally paper trail slips with the results of EVMs in five per cent of polling stations in each assembly seat, for all state and Lok Sabha elections. The counting of paper trail slips, however, will not take place in more than 14 polling stations and less than five polling stations in each assembly seat. The stations will be selected or identified at random.
This change in the vote counting process will, by the EC’s estimate, delay the announcement of poll results by three hours. The Commission has already decided to link all EVMs with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines in the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, scheduled to be held towards the end of this year. VVPAT machines produce a printout of the vote cast using an EVM. The printed ballot slip is deposited in a box and can be used to resolve any dispute regarding the election.
Currently, there is no compulsory tallying of VVPAT slips with the EVM results. It is only done when the results of a polling station are disputed by a candidate or his/ her agent on the counting day. The decision of the returning officer, on whether to accept the candidate’s request to also count VVPAT slips, is final.
The decision on compulsory counting of paper trail slips, which was approved by the full Commission before Nasim Zaidi retired as the Chief Election Commissioner on Wednesday, is a response to the demand made by political parties at a meeting held by the EC on May 12. The meeting was called in the wake of Opposition parties questioning the infallibility of EVMs after the Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab assembly elections in March this year.
At the meeting, AAP leader and Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, for instance, urged the Commission to mandatorily count paper trail slips in 25 per cent of the polling booths in every constituency on the day of the results to instill more faith in the voting process. According to sources, the poll panel’s final decision on the definite percentage of polling stations whose VVPAT slips should be counted was influenced by the delay it would cause in announcement of the election results.
“It takes about three hours to count the printed ballot slips of one VVPAT. On the day of the results, the RO (returning officer) counts votes of 14 EVMs (14 polling stations) together in every round. This means VVPAT slips of 14 polling stations can be tallied with their respective EVMs in one round over roughly three hours. It was felt that delaying the announcement of results by more than three hours would not be advisable. So a maximum limit of 14 and a minimum limit of five polling stations has been imposed,” said a source who did not want to be identified. The EC is expected to soon issue instructions on the changes in the counting process to all chief electoral officers.