EC rejects Opposition request for change in counting system; 22 parties wanted VVPAT slips at five polling stations tallied first

The Election Commission on Wednesday rejected the Opposition's request to amend the counting process for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, saying it is going to stick to the old methodology. The national poll body said counting is going to go on as planned, dismissing the request of 22 Opposition parties to tally the votes cast in EVMs with VVPAT slips of five randomly identified polling booths in an Assembly segment before counting officially begins on Thursday, 23 May.

The Election Commission's plan is that after counting, it will randomly selected Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips from each Assembly segment of a Lok Sabha seat and match with the votes registered in EVMs.

 EC rejects Opposition request for change in counting system; 22 parties wanted VVPAT slips at five polling stations tallied first

Top Opposition leaders met in Delhi on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of a non-NDA alliance staking claim to form government. ANI

Counting will go on as per the plan to tally the VVPAT slips at the end of counting, the Election Commission said. It has also decided to count postal ballots simultaneously with EVM votes due to the "sheer size" of the ballots received this time from service voters. So far, postal ballots were counted before the electronic ones.

Leaders of 22 Opposition parties met the Election Commission on Tuesday, two days before the counting of votes in the Lok Sabha election, asking it to ensure transparency and fairness in the counting process by verifying the votes cast in EVMs with VVPATs.

"If any discrepancy is found anywhere during the VVPAT verification, 100 percent counting of paper slips of VVPATs of all polling stations of that Assembly segment should be done," read the memorandum that the parties submitted to the Election Commission.

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, who was part of the delegation that met the poll panel on Tuesday, said that the Election Commission's rejection of the Opposition demand went against the "spirit" of a Supreme Court order on the devices.

"This goes against the spirit of the Supreme Court order delivered on VVPATs before polling began," Yechury tweeted. "If the process has been so long drawn for the sake of integrity of the electoral process, why is the EC not adhering to the basic principle of testing the sample first?"

"The integrity of EVMs by matching with sample VVPATs has to be done at the start of the counting," Yechury said. "Doing so after the trends are declared makes it infructuous and is likely to lead to protests and a possible law and order situation from the affected candidates."

The Election Commission is scheduled to meet Opposition leaders again on Wednesday to discuss the matter.

The 22 parties approached the Election Commission a day after the Supreme Court dismissed as "nonsense" a petition seeking 100 percent verification of VVPAT slips with EVMs.

In January, too, the Opposition had approached the poll panel, requesting that it increase VVPAT slips counting to 100 percent or revert to the old paper ballot system.

"We told the EC that VVPAT machines should be counted first, and if there is any discrepancy, then all of them in that Assembly segment should be counted," Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters after meeting the Election Commission.

Telugu Desam Party's N Chandrababu Naidu told reporters after the meeting with the Election Commission: "We are asking the EC to respect the mandate of people. It cannot be manipulated."

Among the other Opposition leaders who attended the meeting were Congress leaders Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Ahmed Patel and Ashok Gehlot, Samajwadi Party's Ram Gopal Yadav, CPM's Sitaram Yechuri and TK Rangarajan, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, NCP's Praful Patel and Majeed Memon and DMK's K Kanimozhi. Trinamool Congress leader Derek O'Brien, RJD's Manoj Jha, CPI's S Sudhakar Reddy and D Raja, LJD's Javed Razawa, National Conference leader Devender Rana and JD(S) leader Kupendra Reddy also attended the meeting.

"On VVPATs and the EVM tally, the EC has yet to come out with a procedure in case there is a mismatch. Even if there is one mismatch in the VVPAT samples picked for counting and EVMs, to maintain the integrity of the electoral process, all VVPATs in that Assembly segment must be counted," Yechury said after the meeting.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: May 22, 2019 15:36:11 IST