YSR Congress moves Supreme Court against relaxation of postal ballot counting norms by ECI in Andhra Pradesh

The YSR Congress Party has moved the Supreme Court against the relaxation of postal ballot norms by the Election Commission of India in Andhra Pradesh.

The plea assails the Andhra Pradesh High Court order of June 1, where YSR Congress' writ petition over the same issue was dismissed, with liberty to raise the contentions through an election petition. It is contended that the counting of votes scheduled on June 4, 2024 take place in accordance with the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961 and ECI's instructions (of 2023).

Reportedly, the matter will be heard today by a vacation bench comprising Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Sandeep Mehta.

The matter relates to the validity of about 5 lakh votes cast in Andhra Pradesh through postal ballots, a system of voting for certain categories of persons who are unable to go to polling stations to cast their vote. According to 1961 Rules, the postal ballots are to be submitted with 3 covers - called Forms 13A, 13B and 13C. 

Form 13A is a declaration to be given by the elector/voter, which is to be duly signed by the elector and attested by an authorized officer (who shall also put his designation alongwith the sign and seal. Notably, if a postal ballot is not duly signed and attested, it is to be rejected.

Nonetheless, an exception in this regard was carved out by the ECI in July, 2023, stating that merely if the authorized officer's seal is not found on Form 13A, it ought not to be rejected, if the officer has otherwise given his name and designation on the Form.

The YSR Congress stated in its plea that the high court didn't even consider the matter on merits and had solely dismissed their petition on the grounds of the existence of an alternate remedy. It underlined that if invalid votes were taken into account on the counting day on June 4, then it would cause prejudice to the party.

Furthermore, the plea also sought an ad-interim ex-parte stay on the operation of judgement, and directions to the Election Commission to count postal ballots strictly in accordance with the rules. It mentioned that the action of the Election Commission is ex-facie unsustainable.

The party in its plea clarified that it had not impeded the process of election or is questioning the election itself, but only challenging the poll panel's circular. It mentioned that the challenge is made to ensure that a free and fair election process takes place without any semblance of malafide/ bias.