After having found that some Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the Maharashtra’s Gondhia-Bhandara Lok Sabha constituency were not registering votes in favour of the parties for whom they were being cast, and in one instance registering votes in favour of another party, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is filing a writ petition in the Nagpur High Court on Wednesday to demand either the installation of Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) systems in the EVMs in the constituency, or the postponement of the election date. Praful Patel is the NCP candidate from this constituency.
The VVPAT system allows voters to verify that their vote has been cast correctly on the EVMs.
The AAP candidate for Gondhia-Bhandara, Prashant Mishra, looks to seek time from the High Court on Wednesday to hear the case.
On the night of April 6 (Sunday), a mock-polling of EVMs in the constituency was held in front of party volunteers. “As per Election Commission rules this validation should have started on April 2,” Mishra says. “However due to the number of candidates being 26, it got postponed to April 6.” The constituency goes to polls on April 10.
During the validation, an AAP volunteer reportedly stumbled upon a voting machine (number E056131), where votes cast in favour of the BSP (button number 3) were going to the NCP (button number 2). This was around 2 am on April 7.
“The EC report given to us on this, on the evening of April 7, shows this as a ‘link error’,” Mishra says.
So, on April 7, the AAP lodged a complaint with the collector’s office at Bhandara and Mishra went to Gondhia to inspect the machine himself, in the presence of the Gondhia district collector Amit Saini, the EC observer Sumeet Singh, and the SDO and the tehsildar of the area.
The engineer present on behalf of the EC said to Mishra, “Only the LED (Light Emitting Diode, the bulb) of button number 2 (NCP) flashes when one presses button number 3 (BSP),” Mishra recalls.
Mishra told him this wasn’t the case. “If it was only the LED, then the control panel should have thrown up the right result. However the results clearly showed that votes for the BSP were going to the NCP,” he says.
The EC report that was given to the AAP at 8.30 pm on April 7 said there were 20 faulty EVMs in all. Mishra and other AAP volunteers demanded to see these machines.
“The first machine we got, number E103210, was not registering votes for the BJP and, at times, it wasn’t registering votes for the AAP either,” says Mishra. All the EC report said is that this machine has a “BU starting light problem”.
“We did check the other machines,” says Mishra. “But it was well past midnight and in a short time span, with the kind of pressure put on us to finish the exercise, we couldn’t do a thorough job.”
Mishra says district collector Saini then told him and the AAP volunteers that they could validate each and every EVM in the constituency. “Our argument to him was that April 7 and 8 were our last two days to campaign and we couldn’t spend them in the EC office validating the machines – of which there are thousands,” Mishra says.
The AAP has also lodged complaints with the EC office in the Gondhia-Bhandara constituency and a complaint with the Chief Electoral Officer, Maharashtra, on Wednesday in addition to the writ petition in the Nagpur High Court.
Saini, however, now holds that the two contentious buttons on the first faulty EVM, which the AAP volunteer discovered, pertained not to the BSP (where the vote was intended to be cast) and the NCP (where the vote was being cast eventually) but to two independent candidates.
EVM machines in the constituency comprise a control unit and two ballot units. Each ballot unit contains buttons for up to 16 candidates. Saini claims the fault in the first EVM, number E056131, was with ballot unit number 2, which did not have buttons for either the NCP or the BSP.
Saini adds, “2110 machines (including reserve machines) were checked in the last three days. In all, 10 control units and 54 ballot units were found to be faulty and have been replaced.” He says the two machines Mishra found faulty have been replaced as well. On April 10, polling day, 928 control units and 1856 ballot units will be deployed in the constituency. Saini adds that there are at least “three levels of checks” on each EVM before it is deployed.
“It was the collector’s officials who said to us on April 6 and April 7 that the two buttons on the first EVM pertained to the NCP and the BSP,” says Mishra. “Why is he changing the statement now?”
Mishra adds that Saini had written a letter to the Election Commission after April 6 alleging that certain EVMs had been “rigged”. He claims to have a copy of this letter.
An EC official working in the area, who wishes to remain unnamed, says: “It would have been a serious issue if more than one EVM was seen as being biased towards a particular candidate. But here, while one faulty EVM seems to be casting a false vote towards one candidate, the other is casting a vote towards another. These are machines. They do turn out to be faulty. And we have checks in place.”
Perhaps. But neither the official nor Saini have a fitting reply on why the mock-polling in the constituency, a crucial stage of EVM verification, was postponed to April 6 from April 2 when EC rules state otherwise.
“There were too many candidates,” says Saini. “Quite a few of the candidates in the constituency filed their nominations at the last minute,” says the EC official. “They were more than we had expected. So we had to postpone the date.”