ECI & Kerala's CEO deny error in Kasaragod's mock polling, but find scapegoats

  • Despite officials refusing to acknowledge the error, the Collector's report says four VVPAT machines printed extra slips with BJP symbol
  • Two of the four machines were replaced because of a technical glitch; two cleared mock polling test
  • Collector's inquiry report said BEL engineers will be 'personally held responsible' for the fiasco
Election Commission of India. Photo: Shutterstock/Mirko Kuzmanovic

Kasaragod: Kerala's Chief Electoral Officer Sanjay Kaul on Thursday dismissed as baseless the news report of four electronic voting machines (EVM) printing an extra slip with BJP's lotus symbol during mock polling in Kasaragod.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) also told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the news report was false. "We have verified the allegation from the District Collector (Inbasekar K) and it appears that they are false. We will submit a detailed report to the court," senior Deputy Election Commissioner Nitesh Kumar Vyas told a bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta.

The Supreme Court is hearing a batch of pleas seeking tallying of all votes cast in EVMs with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), a paper slip with the candidate's symbol, which enables voters to see whether their votes were recorded correctly.

On Wednesday, Onmanorama reported that four EVMs erroneously printed out an extra VVPAT slip with BJP's lotus symbol during the commissioning of EVMs in the Kasaragod Assembly segment. The complaints were raised by agents of CPM candidate M V Balakrishnan and Congress candidate Rajmohan Unnithan in Kasaragod Lok Sabha Constituency.

On Thursday, Kasaragod Collector Inbasekar, designated as the District Election Officer, held a press conference and said there was no problem during the commissioning of EVMs at Kasaragod Government College on Thursday.

What happened during the mock poll
The Kasaragod assembly segment has 190 polling stations, 228 ballot units, 228 control units and 247 VVPAT machines that were subjected to testing. The machines were made by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).

Despite the three officers denying any problem, the report of the Assistant Returning Officer Binumon P to the Collector and the Collector's report to the Chief Electoral Officer Kaul lay bare the truth.

The Collector shared the two reports with the media after his press conference.

According to the Assistant Returning Officer's report, during the mock polling, "some machines printed an extra slip with the symbol of the first candidate during self-checking". The first candidate was BJP's M L Ashwini and the symbol was lotus. The slips had the VVPAT serial number and the message 'not to be counted'. "This slip is longer than the usual slip printed during the mock poll," said the ARO's report to the collector.

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Representational graphic: Made using canva

Collector Inbasekar's report to the Chief Electoral Officer Sanjay Kaul was more specific.

The report said VVPAT machines with serial numbers VVTED41294, VVTEF82139, VVTEJ14797, and VVTED49299 printed one extra slip each with the symbol of the first candidate when the central unit was turned on at the time of "self-checking".

The Chief Electoral Officer's press statement released on Thursday mentions the extra slip with the message 'not to be counted' but is silent on the BJP symbol on it.

Of the four VVPAT machines, two machines with serial numbers VVTED41294 and VVTEJ14797 were "replaced due to technical problems", said the Collector's report.

The other two were commissioned after subjecting them to rigorous mock polling. UDF and LDF agents said the machines acted normally in the third round of tests.

One machine (VVTED49299) was subjected to a 1,000-vote test and the votes tallied with the VVPAT slips, said the Collector in his report.

Only after that, the agents of the candidates allowed the machines to be commissioned.

Why did the discrepancy happen?
The collector released a revised inquiry report with the media in which he blamed BEL engineers Pawan Kumar Mishra and Shivam Yadav for the fiasco.

The commissioning of the EVMs has two areas -- one to load the election symbols into the VVPAT machines and the other to conduct the mock polling.

The symbol loading unit is first connected to the VVPAT machine. When the power is turned on, the machine vends seven slips to check all parameters. Once all seven slips show 'pass', the engineers load the election symbols of the candidates by pressing the top button in the symbol loading unit. "Once the symbols are loaded, the same top button is pressed again to take prints of the loaded symbols," the report said.

Usually, it takes a little time to print all the symbols loaded. If the power fails during printing, the printed slip hangs inside the VVPAT and is not pushed out. "These handing slips are not visible in the slip compartment," the report said.

In Kasaragod, BEL engineers clicked the print button and immediately disconnected without waiting for the full print of the VVPAT slips. "This is the root cause of all the problems," said the Collector's report.

When this particular VVPAT machine is plugged on at the commissioning table, the hanging slip is pushed out first. "At this point of time, it gives an impression that without pressing the ballot button, a particular candidate's VVPAT slip is printed," it said.

The entire episode was avoidable had the BEL engineers followed the protocol of taking a full print of symbols after pressing the print button, Inbasekar said in his report. "Their explanation that some labourers disconnected is not at all acceptable. It is not practically possible for a labourer to grab the symbol loaded unit from the learned engineer and disconnect within that short period, that too, after pressing the print button," he said.

Moreover, the symbol-loaded unit and VVPAT are connected through a strong latch, which needs some effort to disconnect. "As the BEL engineers are responsible for the symbol loading unit, they shall be personally held responsible for this lapse," the Collector's report said.

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