ECI delays poll data of first 2 phases: Why this raises concerns

The Election Commission, which finally released the voter turnout percentage of the first two phases on April 30, is yet to make the number of votes polled in the two phases public.
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The Election Commission of India (ECI) has drawn severe criticism over its delay in publishing the polling percentage for the first two phases of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The final voter turnout percentage was eventually released by the ECI on April 30, Tuesday, 10 days after Phase 1 and four days after Phase 2 of the polls. 

However, the poll body is yet to make the number of votes polled in the two phases public. Further, there is a 5-6% increase from the initial percentages announced by the EC. 

A turnout of 66.14% was registered in Phase 1 while Phase 2 recorded 66.7%. On April 19, after the first phase ended, the EC said the voter turnout was around 60% as of 7 pm. Similarly, after the second phase on April 26, the EC said the turnout was at 60.96%. 

Former Aam Aadmi Party leader and political activist Yogendra Yadav said that while it is normal for the ECI to revise the voter turnout numbers, such an instance has never happened before. He said that a difference of 2-5 percentage between polling day and final turnout figures was not abnormal, but the final data used to be ready within 24 hours and that the EC would list the details of voters constituency-wise. 

“The voter turnout kept getting revised for four days in the Election Commission’s mobile application. Yet the final data was not released until April 30. Even when the turnout was released, it was given in percentage. The fear is whether the figure shows the exact number of voters. The Election Commission owes an explanation for this inordinate delay and the sudden change in reporting format,” he added. 

The ECI has also omitted information such as how many voters are registered in a constituency, the exact number of people who have cast their votes, and seat-wise break up of the number of voters. According to reports, the website only shows the total number of eligible voters in the state and the number of voters in each booth. This, however, is not collated into assembly segments or parliamentary constituencies.

Sitaram Yechury, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also voiced his concerns over the delay in releasing the polling data and the way in which it was finally published.

“Why are the absolute numbers of voters in each Parliamentary constituency not put out? Percentages are meaningless unless this figure is known,” said Yechury and went on to add that this would lead to apprehensions of voter numbers being altered and would further raise concerns about results being manipulated, as well.

Poonam Agarwal, an independent journalist and advocate who found discrepancies in the number of votes counted and number of votes polled in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, said that there was no way to do the same with the data released by EC so far as the figures are in percentage. “The Election Commission released the 2019 data by comparing it to the 2014 data. Hence, we got proper compiled data showing the numbers as well as the increase and decrease in the voting percentage. Ever since then, the Election Commission rarely shares detailed data, such as the votes polled. Unless we have the numbers that 40,000 votes have been polled and 40,000 votes have been counted on the EVM, how can we be sure of its accuracy?  We need the numbers, not the percentage,” she stated, adding that the numbers can be known on the polling day itself as Form 17C will be given to the polling agents when voting has closed.

In Phase 1 of the Lok Sabha Elections, held on April 19, Chief Electoral Officer of Tamil Nadu Satyabrata Sahoo was grilled by the media over the varied voter turnouts released by the EC. Thoothukudi, which recorded 59.96% polling percentage saw a jump of 66.88% the next day, raising suspicions. Sahoo said that this data could not be updated by midnight and was updated only on the next day. In Phase 2, Kerala’s Chief Electoral Officer Sanjay Kaul said that the polling was delayed as poll officials took time to verify the documents of voters who came out in huge numbers. Kerala saw a voter turnout of 71.27%, less than 77.84% in 2019.

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