Published On : Sat, May 18th, 2019

Expert Reveals how ECI officials can manipulate election results despite EVM

Nagpur: With the verdict of millions of voters in 2019 elections sealed inside Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), the scene will shift on May 23 to the actual vote-count in each Lok Sabha constituency, with apprehensions of huge foul play and potential manipulations, owing to gaping loopholes of the Election Commission of India (ECI), warns an expert working on election laws since last 10 years .

In order to avoid this, there is a clamour that the ECI must provide a printout of the votes cast in each EVM to the Counting Agents of all candidates, which can be later tallied with the final vote-count.

In the EVMs era, for reasons best known to it, the ECI’s continues the old and faulty “manual recording and tabulation” of votes, where there is huge scope for maneouvering, said eminent Nagpur-based lawyer Adv. Vinod Tiwari who is an analyst & expert of Election Laws & white collerd crimes related there to.

He has raised the issue with ECI since 2009 but accused the election body of being reluctant “to take any steps to improve the systems, which can be benefit the entire electoral process”.

“The old ballot-paper era style of physical counting and tabulation of the votes, practiced prior to 1990, is still in vogue. The Counting Supervisors on each counting table manually record and tabulate the votes displayed on the EVMs manually, then feed it in excel sheets manually with further chances of manipulations, before they are fed in computers by government officials deployed for the purpose. There is a big chance that final results may be at variance with the actual votes cast,” Tiwari said.

The worse is the ignorant Counting Agents appointed by various political parties who remain blissfully unaware of these hoodwinking going on before their eyes, Tiwari said.

In the massive counting halls hired by the EC, for safety and security reasons, a strong wire mesh barriers are erected around all the counting tables, the Counting Agents are made to wait at least 10-15 feet away, making it impossible to view properly/clearly as to what exactly is recorded on the sheets by the Counting Supervisors.

As per usual practice, the Counting Supervisors generally takes the signatures of a few of the Counting Agents on the prescribed forms on the pretext of attendence before display/counting of the votes begins.

“Here, out of, say, 10 Counting Agents, the signatures of a few may be taken as a formality, using a tiny slot in the wire-mesh and the poor Counting Agents fail to realise the significance or the gravity of their action as the signatures are obtained very casually,” said Tiwari, who has pointed this serious issue to the ECI.

Then, the vote-count games begin. The Counting Supervisors have no scope to change total number of votes (which is the vertical total), they can surreptitiously “add” the votes polled by independent candidates or those standing third, fourth or fifth ranked candidates, in multiples of 50 or 100 to a particular candidate who has to be “favoured”, without affecting the vertical total.

In a particular booth, if the total number of votes polled is say, 786, then on display of counting of votes, all 786 are shown including NOTA, and the Counting Agents dutifully record the numbers against their candidates, plus maybe their immediate rivals, but not all the candidates.

“Since the counting table is not visible from the 10-15 feet distance and the wire-mesh, the manipulations begin with Counting Supervisors simply adding up the votes hijacked from independents or other non-serious lower-ranking candidates to the ‘favoured’ candidate,” explained Tiwari.

“When the victory margins are very thin – which is expected in the 2019 parliamentary elections – these additions of 50-100 votes to the ‘favoured’ candidates can make or mar elections, including a particular political party or alliance,” Tiwari pointed out.

He said that there are many instances of prominent candidates being “slaughtered at the counting tables” in Maharashtra and other states while some others barely scraped through with wafer-thin margins, as pointed by him many times before ECI since 2009. Moreover, there are many disputes raised through Election Petitions, time & again, as regards to the allegations of drastically low votes polled by some prominent candidates.

In order to avoid and end such intrigues permanently, Tiwari has urged the ECI to provide a printout slips of the votes polled on each EVM immidiately upon display of votes to all Counting Agents of all candidates at the counting table itself, before starting the vote count.

The Counting Agents or their Political parties or candidates can later tally the printout figures with the final vote-count to ascertain whether any major errors against their candidates vis-à-vis votes cast have taken place at the counting tables.

In India, the counting of votes is governed by the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and though these have been amended for the EVMs era.

On March 24, 1992, the Rules {vide Notification No. S.O.230(E)} were amended to make them in tune with EVMs era, informed Tiwari, who was then Bharatiya Janata Party’s National Co-Convenor and Vice-President (Legal & Legislative Cell) from 2012-2017.

“I have taken this up with the ECI repeatedly in the past ten years, but they have not taken any steps in the matter, for the reasons best known to ECI. It’s a mystery, why – in the modern electronic era, the ECI sticks to the outdated manual writing, recording, tabulation and counting of votes, and avoids upgrading to technology even for such very crucial purpose of counting, which must be transparent & without any iota of doubt ” said Tiwari.

Moreover, only major political parties or serious candidates appoint Counting Agents, many independents or frivolous candidates who may secure a few hundred votes don’t even bother to send anybody to the counting centres, leaving the counting tables open grounds for deception.