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SC admits mix-votes appeal

New Delhi, May 13: The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to examine a plea for directing the Election Commission to ensure that votes cast at polling stations in a constituency are mixed up and then counted to conceal the identity of voters and prevent intimidation by candidates.

The plea cited a purported video that showed Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar threatening residents of a village as a “glaring example” of such intimidation.

Justices Dipak Misra and N.V. Ramana issued a notice to the poll panel and asked it to respond, before posting the matter for further hearing to May 21.

The bench had at first expressed inability to pass any order on the PIL filed by a Punjab-based advocate, Yogesh Gupta. “We understand your argument. But it may not be possible because the entire software has to be changed for the purpose,” it said.

But counsel Vaibhav Sehgal, who appeared for the petitioner, persisted with the plea. He cited the recent incident purportedly involving Pawar, who is alleged to have told the villagers that the NCP could detect voting patterns from the EVMs and cut off their water supply if they didn’t vote for the party.

The counsel said it was “important” that voters’ choice be kept secret and a method should be followed that would keep the choice anonymous. “For every ward there is one separate voting machine and the results of every voting machine are given separately.

“As a result of this, the political parties are able to determine the votes cast in their favour by every ward. The manner of declaration of result of every polling booth strikes at the root of the right of privacy attached to voting.

“Because... political parties become aware of the number of votes cast in their favour from every polling booth, it raises fear in the mind of the voters and acts as a tool in the hands of the political parties to intimidate the voters. A glaring example of such intimidation is a purported video of Maharashtra deputy chief minister, Mr Ajit Pawar, whereby he has been alleged to have warned the residents of a village in Baramati... that he would cut off the water supply if they did not vote for his cousin and sitting NCP MP Supriya Sule,” the counsel told the court.

The court then issued the notice to the poll watchdog.

Before EVMs were introduced, votes in every constituency were mixed up and then counted. This was done to ensure that parties couldn’t detect the pattern of voting in a particular ward or region.

But the EVMs dispensed with the system, making the voters vulnerable to intimidation, the petitioner said.

According to the PIL, the incident allegedly involving Pawar had exposed the “shortcoming” and the fallout of the current system of declaring results.

“This incident also shows that the remedy lies in (the) declaration of result of the constituency as a whole and not ward-wise result of every electronic voting machine,” the petition said, emphasising that such a “change” would “further crystallise the privacy attached” to the right to vote.

The petition said the change, viewed from “another angle”, would bring “balanced growth and balanced funding” and also reduce cases fuelled by “political vendetta, ill will and hatred”.

Under the present system, the petitioner said, a party can deliberately neglect a ward that had not voted for it and pamper those that had, thus affecting balanced growth in a constituency.