AA Edit | EC disclosure welcome, but why was it so late?

Election Commission releases detailed vote count data amid calls for transparency

The release of the constituency-wise data of the absolute number of votes cast in the first five phases of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections by the Election Commission of India, along with its assurance that the number, as recorded in Form 17C, can never be changed even by anyone’s hypothetical mischief, comes as a reassurance to all those demanding more transparency on the part of the poll body.

This will finally end speculation on whether or not there will be tinkering with the number of votes polled that arose after the EC did not make this data public except in terms of percentages. And, too, the assurance by the EC that voter turnout data has always been available with candidates and on the “Voter Turnout” app for the citizens helps assuage doubts.

The EC’s decision comes after the Supreme Court refused to issue an order to the poll body to upload Form 17C which gives the data of votes polled in each booth. The SC had noted that it was not proper for it to intervene with the election process when it is already on.

While the release of the data is welcome, one fails to understand the EC’s statement that it had noted “the pattern of false narratives and mischievous design to vitiate electoral process”. The constitutional body mandated for the conduct of free and fair elections and “fully committed to the highest level of transparency and involvement of stakeholders at every stage of the electoral cycle” alone can be blamed if people felt that it was less than fully transparent in its conduct of the elections. It all started with an unusual delay of 11 days for the EC to come out with the final percentage of votes polled in the first phase of the election. The EC has not yet given a satisfactory explanation for that yet.

The panel contends that the fully filled and signed Form 17C is available with representatives of the political parties in the booths but it conveniently forgets that data that cannot be processed has little or no meaning. The copies of Form 17C supplied to the booth agents will be of little use as political parties have no mechanism of their own to collate and compare them with the votes in the EVMs when they are opened.

On the other hand, the EC has all the technical wherewithal to make data available to the political parties so that they can verify for discrepancies. Its statement that booth-wise data is available with its app comes too late.

The EC’s latest decision makes it apparent for anyone who has watched the developments in the Supreme Court and outside that the poll body was not at all proactive when it came to sharing information. It chose to ignore or sidestep questions raised on the absolute number of votes; now it has come out with answers only with retrospective effect. After forcing civil society organisations to move the apex court, it has now answered the query they had originally raised. Such extreme self-righteousness and condescending attitude do not behove the august body.

The Election Commission should be forthright in making public as much information as possible on its own accord instead of keeping people guessing about the possibilities of data manipulation.

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