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Disclosure of voter turnout data based on Form 17C will cause confusion among voters: ECI to SC

The ECI highlighted the risk of morphed images and misinformation if Form 17C is uploaded online. It emphasised that in tightly contested elections, publishing this data could cause confusion about the total votes polled, as it would combine in-person and postal votes.

Edited By: Nitin Kumar @Niitz1 New Delhi Updated on: May 22, 2024 23:32 IST
Lok Sabha Elections 2024
Image Source : PTI/FILE PHOTO Supreme Court of India building.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, arguing that disclosing voter turnout data based on Form 17C, which includes records of votes polled at each polling station, could confuse voters. The ECI highlighted that this data would also encompass postal ballot counts, potentially misleading the public.

Concerns over data manipulation

The ECI expressed concerns that uploading Form 17C on the website might lead to images being morphed, creating "widespread discomfort and mistrust." The affidavit emphasised that in closely contested elections, disclosing this form could cause confusion about the total votes polled, as the data would include both in-person votes and postal ballots. The commission warned that this could be exploited by individuals with ulterior motives to discredit the electoral process and disrupt the ongoing election machinery.

Legal standpoint and rules compliance

The ECI stated that there is no legal mandate to publish final authenticated voter turnout data for all polling stations. According to the rules, Form 17C is to be provided only to polling agents and not disclosed publicly. The affidavit was submitted in response to an application by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which sought the disclosure of voter turnout data within 48 hours of polling.

ADR's application and allegations

ADR's application highlighted delays in publishing voter turnout data for the first two phases of the ongoing 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The NGO noted a significant increase in voter turnout percentages from the initial figures released on polling days to those published later. The application requested the immediate uploading of vote counts from all polling stations and detailed tabulations of constituency-wise voter turnout.

Supreme Court's response

Last week, the Supreme Court had asked the ECI to respond to ADR's application, which also pointed out sharp spikes in voter turnout figures. ADR claimed that initial percentages released on polling days showed increases of approximately 5–6 per cent when updated data was published. The ECI has sought the dismissal of the application, accusing certain "vested interests" of attempting to undermine its credibility.

Election Commission's position

The ECI maintained that general disclosure of Form 17C is not permitted under the rules, emphasising the potential for creating unnecessary confusion and mistrust among voters. The poll panel reiterated its commitment to a fair electoral process while defending its procedures and the integrity of the election data.

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