The Election Commission on Tuesday told the Madras High Court that Electronic Voting Machines cannot be tampered with by any Wi-Fi, radio or any other electronic devices. Promising safe and secure means of having a free and fair election, the poll body claimed these devices are not capable of interfering with EVMs.
The Commission made the submissions in its counter-affidavit, filed in response to the Court’s queries on a petition moved by the DMK for directions to ensure free and fair elections to the Legislative Assembly. Tamil Nadu votes on April 6.
After recording the EC’s assurances on various fronts, including the security of EVMs, video surveillance of polling stations, VVPAT counting and the age of voting machines to be used, the bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy disposed of the petition. “It is hoped that this day next week will pass of as peacefully and uneventfully as today seems to be going. However, the Election Commission should be alert and proactive and most importantly ensure that the second surge of the pandemic is not accelerated by the activities undertaken on Election Day,” the bench observed.
The issue pertains to DMK’s R.S. Bharathi moving a plea seeking to provide CCTV live coverage, live web-stream during voting in all the booths, to install jammers at the strong rooms, and at counting centres and to direct Returning Officers to count at least 50% of VVPATS, simultaneously.
Senior Advocate P. Wilson appeared for the DMK while Advocate Niranjan Rajagopalan appeared for the Election Commission of India. Wilson raised apprehensions on the live webcast and VVPAT machines that were being provided in 5% of the booths in each constituency. The ECI submitted that CCTV coverage and webcasting will be there for 100% of critical or vulnerable polling stations.
Nearly 44,000 stations would have such monitoring, covering at least 50% booths across the state. The Commission said the identification of critical and vulnerable polling booths has been done after consulting 12 major political parties. The final list of such booths was accidentally released to political parties by electoral officers in Tirupur and Dindigul. The information pertaining to the remaining critical/vulnerable booths cannot be released to the political parties on account of security concerns.
The court accepted the submission. It also declined to peruse the full list of such polling stations submitted in sealed covers, choosing to rely only on the submissions made in open court.
Electoral officials will monitor the activity being surveilled on the Election Day. Others or the general public would not have such real time access. However, this footage will be recorded for inspection later, it assured.
The Commission further said that M3 voting machines, which were manufactured between 2017-2019, would be used for the elections. Older machines would not be used. On VVPAT counting, it said the random counting of votes in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directions would not affect the Returning Officer’s power to do a random counting of votes on the candidate’s request.
The Commission said pre-poll guarding of the EVMs would be conducted in accordance with the Election Manual. EVMs handed over to the polling booth is checked before polling begun. Every EVM is sealed and the candidates’ signatures are obtained across the seal. The seals are not opened or broken till the period of limitation after the conduct of the poll runs out and no challenge to the election to the relevant constituency has been made.
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It said the Commission also cuts off supply inside the strongrooms both at the pre-poll and post-poll stages, not because the machines are affected by any electrical activity, but to ensure that there is no cause for any fire by short circuit. The Commission added that the prohibition on electronic devices and mobile phones in counting rooms is also a measure of abundant caution not because electronic devices are capable of interfering with EVMs in any manner or form.