It seemed to be a logical and reasonable demand – if possibly cumbersome for the staff engaged in counting votes – but the Election Commission (EC) rejected it at its meeting today (Wednesday, May 22).
Yesterday evening, leaders of 22 Opposition parties had met the EC and demanded that counting of votes should start with tallying of Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) with EVM votes of five polling booths in every assembly segment of a Lok Sabha seat and, in case there was a mismatch, to tally all votes in that segment.
The Supreme Court had on April 8 directed the Election Commission to increase matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs from one polling booth to five randomly selected polling booths per assembly segment in Lok Sabha polls.
In the instructions put out by the poll panel, the VVPAT slips were to be counted at the end of the last round.
“This is a no brainer,” said Abhishek Singhvi of the Congress. He reasoned, the Supreme Court had ordered counting of VVPAT slips from five polling booths only as a sample. If there is a problem with the sample, it means that entire lot may have been tampered and need to be tallied with VVPATs.
This is for the first time in a Lok Sabha election that results of voting machines will be matched with slips generated by paper trail machines.
The exercise will take place in five polling stations per assembly segment which effectively means that out of nearly 10.3 lakh polling stations, the EVM-VVPAT matching will take place in 20600 such stations.
The Election Commission is yet to provide the number of counting centres being set up for Thursday, saying the data is not centrally available.
As per procedure, postal ballots would be the first to be counted.
The paper trail machines slips will be counted in the end.
As per the procedure, first the slips will be counted and the EVM displays would be switched on later to match the results.
In case of a mismatch, the results based in paper slip count will be considered as final.
The entire exercise of EVM-Paper trail machine matching will take an additional four to five hours.
The 22 Opposition leaders had also drawn attention to reports of what they called suspicious EVM movements thereby demanding verification of VVPAT slips before the counting of votes and not later.
The poll body, however, had dismissed the allegation adding that the EVMs were “absolutely safe” in strongrooms.
While the Opposition has been informed of the Election Commission’s meeting today, the leaders say they were not very hopeful since the EC’s “body language was not very positive”.
The BJP, meanwhile, has called the Opposition demand for matching of EVM votes with VVPAT a desperate attempt in the face of certain defeat.
Also, rejection of Opposition’s demand is being projected as its defeat and BJP’s victory.