Govt opposes voting pattern veil

The Centre today told the Supreme Court that the identification of booth-wise voting patterns did not lead to voter intimidation and there was no need to stop the practice.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 21.02.17
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Queues outside a polling booth in Lucknow on Sunday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Feb. 20: The Centre today told the Supreme Court that the identification of booth-wise voting patterns did not lead to voter intimidation and there was no need to stop the practice.

It argued that knowledge of the booth-wise vote shares allowed the candidates to work harder in areas where support for them was low, thus producing better results for everyone involved.

A group of ministers headed by home minister Rajnath Singh had decided last September that "intimidation/victimisation of voters as apprehended may not occur on a larger scale in this era of media activism", a law ministry affidavit told the court.

"It was observed that if any such incident takes place, then in the present scenario of informed society, the same would be highlighted in the electronic and print media as well as the social media and which would definitely affect adversely the parties'/candidates' performance in future elections," the affidavit added.

"This position will make the parties and the candidates circumspect since the public cannot be taken for granted at all times."

Two individuals, Yogesh Gupta and Imran Khan, had moved a public interest petition in 2014 seeking a direction to the poll panel to mix up the votes cast in the various polling stations in a constituency.

This was necessary, they argued, to prevent the candidates intimidating voters in areas that had rebuffed them.

As a purported example, the petitioners had cited alleged intimidation by then Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar in the Baramati constituency during the last general election

Pawar had allegedly threatened the voters that his party, the Nationalist Congress Party, would be able to detect the voting patterns from the electronic voting machine readings and cut off their water supply if they snubbed it.

Before the introduction of the voting machines, ballot papers could be mixed wherever necessary to prevent disclosure of the voting patterns.

The petition had prompted the apex court to issue notices to the Centre, Election Commission and the Law Commission seeking their responses.

In their replies, the Law Commission and the Election Commission had favoured the introduction of a "totaliser" mechanism in the voting machines to hide the booth-wise voting patterns.

The poll panel had initially suggested the measure to the Centre in 2008, six years before the petition was moved. The government had referred the proposal to a parliamentary committee in 2009 but no action followed.

A totaliser allows the votes cast in about 14 polling booths to be counted together. Currently, the votes are tallied booth by booth.

Although all the respondents have now expressed their stands, the matter could not be taken up today as Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul withdrew himself from the case.