VVPATs print extra slip with BJP lotus symbol during mock polls in Kerala

The same VVPAT machines printed another extra slip with the lotus symbol during the second round of mock poll as well. The issue was rectified only during the third round.
File Photo for representation
File Photo for representation
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Three VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) machines printed one extra slip each with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s lotus symbol during a mock poll in Kerala’s Kasaragod on Wednesday, April 17. This came a day after the Supreme Court said that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) give accurate results unless there’s “wrong human intervention”. The Congress and CPI(M) have both raised complaints over the lapse, urging Election Commission officials to look into the errors and change the machines.  

The machines had the BJP symbol as the topmost option. During the second round of mock poll too, the same three faulty VVPAT machines once again printed an extra slip with the lotus symbol. The issue was only rectified during the third round, according to Nasar Cherkalam, election agent of Congress candidate Rajmohan Unnithan. 

The EVMs kept at the Kasaragod government college had names of 10 candidates, including the None of The Above (NOTA) option. Advocate BM Jamal, chief election agent of Rajmohan Unnithan, told TNM that when the machines were initialised, three out of 10 VVPAT machines printed out ‘test prints’. All these three prints had the BJP’s lotus symbol on it and the words ‘not to be counted’ were written on top in small letters. 

The VVPAT is a machine that is connected to the EVM and once a person casts a vote, the vote also gets recorded in the VVPAT, leaving a paper trail or slip. The slips are normally not handed over to the voter, but merely shown through a small lens that lights up for around seven seconds. During the mock poll, however, the slips are printed out and the agents verify them personally. 

Even though the extra slip printed for BJP came in a slightly bigger size, with a warning that said ‘not to be counted’, the complainants argue that there is a chance of these slips being counted by mistake during the actual elections. 

“This test slip was a little bigger in size than the normal VVPAT slip. My question is, why should this test slip come, and that too with the BJP’s symbol? Even though it says ‘not to be counted’ on top, the words are in a small font. What if such slips are printed and counted during real elections?” Jamal asked. 

VVPAT machines in India are produced by two public sector undertakings (PSUs) – Bharat Electronic Limited (BEL) that comes under the Defence Ministry and the Electronic Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) that comes under the Department of Atomic Energy.

During the mock poll in Kasargod, engineers from either of the PSUs were not present. According to Jamal, the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) said that the extra slips could have been printed because of a technical error and he didn’t have the technical knowledge to rectify it. 

Jamal also added that there is a lack of persons with technical knowledge who can explain what is happening or rectify the errors, and that this was causing confusion among the people and the cadres.

VVPAT verification is done in five random polling stations in each assembly or parliamentary constituency, selected by draw of lots by the Returning Officer. In case of a dispute, the slips take precedence over the machine’s count.

In Kasaragod on April 17, the issue was highlighted by the booth agents of the Congress and CPI(M) candidates and a complaint was raised with the district collector, who is also the District Election Officer.

Nasar Cherkalam, another agent of Congress candidate and incumbent MP Rajmohan Unnithan, told TNM, “In the EVM, there was a list of 10 candidates, including NOTA. Mock poll was done for each candidate for one vote each. But in the VVPAT, 11 slips came as there was one extra slip for BJP.” 

Nasar pointed out that despite the words ‘not to be counted’, it would still pose a problem during counting of votes. “If during the real election, the EVMs stop functioning and there is a case for counting VVPATs, BJP agents can claim that the extra slip is their real vote and that the 'not to be counted ' is an error,” he said.

Several petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court seeking to verify all VVPAT slips during elections in the interest of transparency. Among the petitioners are the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), and former IAS officer MG Devasahayam. 

Earlier, the ECI mandated counting of VVPAT slips of only one polling station per constituency. This was increased to five random polling stations after a 2019 SC judgement. Now, petitioners like Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) have sought 100% cross verification of all VVPAT slips with the EVM count.

Watch: Don’t trust EVMs, want all VVPATs counted: Devasahayam intv | No Filter with Dhanya Rajendran

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