National News Report

Supreme Court Dismisses Plea To Publish Voter Turnout Data

Supreme Court Dismisses Plea To Publish Voter Turnout Data

The Supreme Court on May 24 refused to pass any interim order on a petition filed by the NGO Association for Democratic Reforms, or ADR, seeking booth-wise voter turnout data. The ADR has been advocating for the Election Commission of India to publish polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of the conclusion of polling for each phase of the Lok Sabha elections.

A vacation Bench of Justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma observed that the interim prayer sought in the present petition was similar to the relief raised in the main petition pending before the top Court since 2019. The Bench, however, clarified that no opinion has been expressed on the merits apart from this prime facie view.

The order read, “The arguments on the interim application were heard. Prima facie we are not inclined to grant any relief on the interim application at this stage in view of similarities of the prayers in the interim application and the writ petition. The grant of relief in the interim application would amount to the grant of final relief.

Relist the applications before the appropriate bench after vacations. We have not expressed any opinion on merits apart from the prima facie view expressed above.” Justice Datta said, “Granting the interim prayer would amount to giving the final relief in the writ petition itself.” The judge ordered the matter to be listed before the appropriate bench after vacation in July.

Senior Advocate Dr Abhishek Manu Singhvi appeared for Mitra. Senior Advocate Dushyant Dave appeared for ADR, and Senior Advocate Maninder Singh appeared for the ECI. On 17 May, the apex court asked the EC to submit a response to a petition seeking scanned copies of Form 17C to be uploaded to the ECI website as and when the voting concludes.

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Interestingly, the ADR’s application was listed alongside a writ petition filed by TMC leader Mahua Moitra back in 2019. Moitra’s petition alleges discrepancies in the voter turnout data of the 2019 General Elections. The ADR, in its application, flagged a sizeable difference between the initial turnout figures released by the poll body soon after the conclusion of polling and the final voter percentages published subsequently.

The alleged irregularities have also resulted in Opposition leaders and civil society members demanding the publication of Part I of Form 17C (Account of votes recorded) data on the poll body’s website. Under Rule 49S(2) of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, a presiding officer is mandated to furnish a copy of the entries made in Form 17C to the candidates’ polling agents at the close of polling.

On May 22nd, the Election Commission of India submitted an affidavit strongly opposing ADR’s plea. The ECI argued that there is no legal requirement to publish final authenticated data regarding voter turnout for all polling stations. Furthermore, the poll panel cautioned that releasing voter turnout information from Form 17C, which includes the number of votes cast in each polling station, could cause confusion among voters. This is because it would include counts from postal ballots as well.

In its affidavit, the Election Commission questioned ADR’s intentions, accusing the NGO of consistently running a “malafide campaign” to raise doubts and suspicions about election conduct. The ECI argued that there is no legal mandate for the general public to access Form 17C, which records the votes cast at each polling station. According to the ECI, only polling agents of candidates are entitled to receive this form.

The ECI further warned that uploading Form 17C online could lead to “mischief” and confusion among voters, potentially eroding trust in the electoral process. It also said, “In any electoral contest, the margin of victory may be very close. The ECI argued that Form 17C, currently stored securely in the Strong Room and only accessible to polling agents whose signatures it bears, is designed to maintain a secure and traceable record of the polling process.

“At the moment, the original Form 17C is only available in the Strong Room and a copy only with the polling agents whose signature it bears. Therefore, there is a one-to-one relationship between each Form 17C and its possessor,” the commission told the top Court. The Supreme Court had sought a detailed response from the ECI after hearing the plea filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). It directed the Commission to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of polling for each phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.

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