Form 17C And Row Over Poll Panel’s Voter Turnout Data

NDTV Explains: Form 17C And Row Over Poll Panel's Voter Turnout Data

Results for the seven-phase 2024 Lok Sabha election will be out on June 4 (File).

New Delhi:

A row over access to voter turnout data – including critical information about number of votes polled and/or rejected at each booth – has made headlines as India selects a new union government.

The spotlight is on Form 17C from the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, which records a multitude of data, starting with the code number and name of the polling booth and including the number of voters (data from Form 17A), number of votes rejected (and why), and the number finally accepted.

The second part of Form 17C is also critical; this comes into play on counting day (June 4, in this case) when the number of votes for all candidates is cross-checked against the total number of accepted votes on polling day. This is to guard against manipulation of votes for/by any party.

In brief, opposition leaders and political action groups want Form 17C data to be released within 48 hours of end of polling in each booth. The Election Commission, which has delayed publishing this data, has argued that “indiscriminate disclosure” of the numbers will cause “chaos” during polling.

The EC has also argued, in response to a petition in the Supreme Court, that release of this data is not mandated by law. Copies are only to be given to the agent in charge of each booth, the EC said.

What Is Form 17C?

Form 17C is a record of votes cast at each polling station across the country. It contains specific data about the following;

  1. Electors assigned to each booth
  2. Number of registered voters in the area
  3. Number of voters who decided not to vote
  4. Number of voters not allowed to vote
  5. Number of votes recorded (data from the EVM)
  6. If the number of votes recorded is equal to number of voters minus those who did not vote
  7. Data about ballot papers (received, issued, and not used/returned)
  8. Data about paper seals (numbers issued/used/returned)
Form 17C of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961

Form 17C of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961

This data is entered by polling officers and checked by the Presiding Officer of that booth.

The second part is a record of votes for each candidate and is entered on counting day. It contains specific data about the following;

  1. Name of the candidate and votes received
  2. If total votes counted from that booth is the same as total votes polled (per Part 1)
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Form 17C (Part II) of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961

This data is entered by the supervisor of the counting station and each candidate (or their representative) is required to sign off on the form, which is checked by the Returning Officer.

Why Is Form 17C Important?

Simply because voter turnout data in this form can be used to legally challenge an election result.

In an election that has already seen serious questions about the reliability of the EVMs, or electronic voting machines, Form 17C data is being seen as an important counterweight to potential poll fraud.

NDTV Explains | In VVPAT Case, Court’s 2 Big Directions On EVMs, Symbol Units

As far as EVMs go, in April the Supreme Court gave EVMs a thumbs-up, and rejected petitions seeking 100 per cent verification of votes cast on EVMs using the VVPAT, or Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail.

What Is The Controversy?

This data has been sought by opposition politicians and activists after the Election Commission delayed release of first and second phase voter turnout figures. When published, there were questions over sharp differences in relation to preliminary data made available on the day of polling.

Phase 1 data was delayed by 10 days and data for the next three phases by four days each.

Political leaders like the Trinamool’s Mahua Moitra and the Congress’ Pawan Khera have demanded the EC release this data as required – within 48 hours of close of polling, claiming widespread concern among voters over possible fraud to ensure victory for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Ms Moitra, contesting Bengal’s Krishnanagar seat, has been particularly active, posting multiple times on X to urge the Election Commission to publish the data. To underline her point, on May 14 she released voter data from her constituency. “Attention EC – here is data for my constituency with number of voters, compiled within 24 hrs… Why are you not able to give this for four phases?”

On Wednesday morning Pawan Khera flagged “strange goings-on” in the poll panel, posting, “First, Election Commission takes 10-11 days to bring out final figure of voting (for Phase 1) and then the difference between real-time and final data turns out to be 1.7 crore votes. This is unprecedented.”

Leaders from the opposition INDIA bloc, led by the Congress, assembled in Delhi earlier this month to discuss election- and voter-related issues, including a “red card” to Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh – which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Samajwadi Party leader Javed Ali claimed large numbers of Muslims were being stopped from voting in the state, where the BJP is today politically dominant.

Form 17C Petition In Supreme Court

The Supreme Court was involved after the Association for Democratic Reforms, a special interest group working for electoral and political reforms, filed a petition alleging an inordinate delay in releasing voter turnout data for the first four phases, which took place on April 19, April 26, May 7, and May 13.

The ADR – which claimed an increase of five to six per cent between initial and final figures – wanted scanned copes of Form 17C to be published on the poll panel’s website after close of voting.

Ordered to respond to the petition, the Election Commission – under fire for alleged inaction against the ruling party on various counts, including speeches by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior BJP leaders and multiple instances of alleged voter fraud and malpractice – sought its dismissal.

READ | Making Form 17C Data Public Will Cause Confusion: Poll Body

The EC told the court release of the data could create confusion as it includes postal ballot figures, and that images of the published numbers could be morphed and lead to “widespread discomfort”.

The EC also argued there is no legal mandate in this matter. That is, it claimed the rules do not permit the sharing Form 17C data with any other entity (apart from polling officials) and sought dismissal of the petition, declaring “vested interests” were levelling false allegations to discredit its working.

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