VVPAT physical verification: SC asks Opposition to respond to ECI by April 8

ECI said the adoption of a particular percentage as a sample for VVPAT slip verification was devoid of scientific logic or statistical basis.

The Supreme Court allowed 21 Opposition parties time till April 8 to respond to an Election Commission of India (ECI) affidavit saying an increased 50% random physical verification of VVPATs will delay Lok Sabha poll results of 2019 by six whole days.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, in a short hearing, agreed to a request made by senior advocate A.M. Singhvi for time to put the Opposition’s response to ECI in writing before the Supreme Court.

“The 50% Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slip verification in each assembly segment of a Parliamentary Constituency or Assembly Constituency on an average shall enlarge the time required for counting to about six days,” ECI said in a 50-page affidavit filed last week.

It said the current confidence level in EVM-VVPAT accuracy is 99.9936%. Any increase in the sample size of verification of VVPAT slips would only lead to a “very negligible gain in the confidence level.”

ECI said the adoption of a particular percentage as a sample for VVPAT slip verification was devoid of scientific logic or statistical basis. In fact, it was rather otiose.

The Commission has made it stand clear despite the Supreme Court’s recent strong observations in favour of an increase in the sample VVPAT slip counting for the forthcoming elections.

With this, the ECI has also chosen stand firm against a plea by 21 Opposition parties, who jointly moved the apex court challenging the poll body’s guideline that VVPAT slip counting would take place only in one polling station in an Assembly constituency or each Assembly segment in case of parliamentary elections.

The Commission banks on a March 22, 2019 report of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) to buttress its case against increasing the VVPAT slips’ counting.

The ISI report recommends that a sample verification of 479 EVMs and VVPATs out of a total 10.35 lakh machine would lift confidence to 99.9936%. But Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, who has authored the affidavit, said the ECI’s sample verification for the April-May Lok Sabha polls would cover 4,125 EVMs and VVPATs. “This is 8.6 times the sample size recommended in the Indian Statistical Institute report,” ECI said.

The Commission, represented by senior advocate Aryama Sundaram and advocate Amit Sharma, submitted that no mismatch has been detected in mock polls or in the verification of VVPAT slips carried out at 1,500 polling stations till date.

The affidavit said increased VVPAT slip counting would require extensive training and capacity building of election officials in the field. VVPAT slip counting takes place in specially erected VVPAT counting booths under the close monitoring of the returning officer and direct oversight of the observer.

ECI said its confidence in EVM-VVPATs is sourced from their secure designs, elaborate procedural safeguards adopted for their usage, and finally the fact that there have been zero errors in sample verifications so far.

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