LS polls 2019: Congress-led Opposition mocking democracy by demanding overnight change in counting process

First, the Opposition questioned the credibility of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) introduced in India with much success in 2000. This was rejected by several high courts of the country and the Supreme Court, apart from the Election Commission of India (ECI), which on multiple occasions issued detailed clarification highlighting the impossibility of EVMs being manipulated.

Then the Opposition parties alleged tampering of the machines. They organised a EVM 'hackathon' to discredit the election process. Then they alleged hijacking of the EVMs. Then 21 Opposition parties moved the Supreme Court seeking directions to ECI to increase the voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) tallying with EVM figures to 50 percent which was rejected by the Supreme Court. Then they again filed a PIL seeking to increase the (VVPAT) tallying with EVM figures to 33 or 25 percent which again was rejected. The apex court, however, increased it from 1 to five per assembly segment.

 LS polls 2019: Congress-led Opposition mocking democracy by demanding overnight change in counting process

Polling officials seal an EVM after voting. Reuters

Now, the Opposition wants to change the entire counting procedure, that too just a day before the counting is to begin and results to the Lok Sabha elections is to be declared. On Tuesday, 22 Opposition parties met the ECI with a memorandum that asked that VVPAT slips be counted prior to the counting of votes and not after the completion of the last round of counting. They also asked the ECI that there should be 100 percent verification of the entire Assembly segment if a mismatch is found during the random check. On Wednesday, however, EC rejected their plea which prompted a new round of attacks on the commission.

The demand made by the Opposition defies basic logic. The full form of VVPAT is voter-verified paper audit trail, which means that a paper slip is generated bearing name and symbol of the candidate along with a recording of the vote in control unit so that in case of any dispute, a paper slip could be counted to verify the result being shown on the EVM. Under VVPAT, a printer is attached to the balloting unit and kept in the voting compartment. The paper slip remains visible on VVPAT for seven seconds through a transparent window.

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Now, for anyone, it would not be difficult to understand that an audit can always start when the process is over. Here, the process is 'counting of the vote' in the EVMs, which can be followed by a an audit process where a paper slip is generated bearing name and symbol of the candidate along with recording of vote in Control Unit, so that in case of any dispute, paper slip could be counted to verify the result being shown on the EVM.

Now, the Opposition wants that first the VVPAT process should be completed and then the counting take place. It has also demanded that there should be 100 percent verification of the entire Assembly segment if a mismatch is found during the random check. There are various processes during the election that are scrutinised by the ECI after the polling has taken place, after counting has done, after the results are declared and after certificate to winning candidates are given. Certain procedures and schedules are followed in this regard.

Consider this: According to Section 78 of Representation of People Act, 1951, every contesting candidate is required to lodge a true copy of the account of his election expenses with the District Election Officer (DEO) within 30 days of the declaration of the result of the election. Failure to lodge the account of election expenses within the time and in the manner required by law without good reason or justification may result in disqualification of the candidate concerned by the Election Commission of India under Section 10A of the Act.

Now, if a candidate decides to approach ECI or to the court, claiming that his opponent is spending more than the sanctioned amount, he has to wait till the elections are over to register his complaint. What the Opposition is doing now is attempting to alter the entire electoral procedures that have the backing of the Constitution, Parliament and is overseen by constitutional functionaries like the election commissioners.

While ECI itself and Parliament amended the existing election rules from time to time, it has been done after much deliberation and not overnight and in haste because a political party demanded it. Opposition parties need to remember that to deal with important electoral issues like criminalisation of politics, use of money power in elections, it took a good amount of time and deliberation among all the stakeholders to reach out a consensus where certain law was changed to ensure a more robust system of conducting elections.

From changing the structure of ECI (by appointing two commissioners apart from the chief election commissioner in 1993) to barring convicted persons from contesting elections, it took much more than a memorandum by a group of political parties. It was made possible only after a law was passed to that effect by Parliament and after Supreme Court approved it.

By its demand of changing the entire ‘counting process’ overnight, Opposition is conveniently ignoring the fact that in a democracy big changes are made by following procedures established by law and due process. Congress, which is leading the Opposition in this adventurism should understand this even better as they are claiming that they are saving democracy.

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Updated Date: May 22, 2019 21:42:14 IST