SC ordered 2% slip audit in 2019 on parties' plea

The Supreme Court‘s decision to hear a plea seeking complete count of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail paper slips in the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls has brought back the focus on the Election Commission of India‘s rationale in limiting the verification to five randomly selected EVMs.

The poll panel has defended its rationale in courts and also found support from experts such as the Indian Statistical Institute which said the random formula was statistically sound. After a petition by over 20 political parties in 2019, SC mandated physical verification of EVM-VVPAT counts in 2% polling booths per constituency.

Of the 20,687 polling stations where the mandatory physical verification of VVPAT slips was conducted on SC orders in 2019, eight cases of mismatch were found, which EC said were mainly due to ‘easily explainable human errors’. The mismatch estimated at 0.0004% had no impact on the results in all eight cases, EC maintained.

VVPAT count takes 50-60 minutes per EVM. This sequential physical verification for five EVMs added five more hours to total counting day time. Opposition parties have, however, argued that the sanctity of a fair election outweighed the concern of longer hours or days to declare the result.

VVPAT was first introduced in 2013 to build greater confidence in EVM. The question now is how many VVPAT slips should be tallied to build trust. In 2016, EC mulled over increasing VVPAT slips to be counted. Rounds of discussions were held and auditing 5% found maximum favour but the plan was never implemented.

In 2017, EC started manual verification in one polling station per assembly segment for the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections. Political skeptics were, however, not satisfied. In an August 27, 2018, meeting EC held with political parties, almost the entire Opposition joined hands with Congress to demand a return to ballot paper-based voting in place of EVMs.

Many parties suggested increasing counting from one polling booth per constituency to 10%-30% to put doubts to rest. Congress leaders Kamal Nath and Sachin Pilot went to court demanding verification in at least 10% randomly selected stations in each assembly constituency. AAP demanded 20% auditing.

EC then consulted experts from the Indian Statistical Institute, IIT Kanpur and the Chennai Mathematical Institute, among others, to devise a ‘scientific formula’ to arrive at the right percentage and sample of VVPAT slips that should be counted to verify the electronic result. They concurred that the ratio of one polling station per constituency was ‘statistically sound’ and ‘representative enough’ to audit ‘accuracy’ of the voting system.

William Murphy

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