On Thursday, the Election Commission directed the Chief Electoral Officer in Tamil Nadu to count only the Voter Verifiable Audit Paper Trail slips in 44 polling booths spread across 13 districts and not the votes recorded in the Electronic Voting Machines. It has also ordered repolling in three booths.

The directive was issued following the failure of the polling officers to clear mock voting results before the start of actual polling.

Mock polling is conducted an hour before actual polling begins to ensure that the voting machines are working.

According to the Election Commission guidelines for mock voting, prior to polling, a minimum of 50 votes must be cast in the presence of polling agents, who are then shown the results. The polling agents must confirm to the presiding officers that the indicator in front of the name of a candidate for whom the vote was cast lit up when the button is pressed.

The officers are required to replace a voting machine if it shows a snag during the mock poll.

Actual polling must only begin after the results of the mock polls are deleted.

What went wrong

Tamil Nadu voted on April 18. The state’s Chief Electoral Officer subsequently informed the Election Commission that errors were observed in 47 polling booths across the state.

In these booths, polling officers had either cleared EVMs of the mock votes but not the VVPAT machines or vice versa. In a few cases, they failed to clear mock votes from both machines.

Introduced in 2013, VVPAT machines allow voters to verify that the votes have been cast as intended, by printing the name and symbol of the party the voter has voted for. This printout is visible to the voter for a few seconds before it drops into a box.

A repoll has been recommended in booths where VVPAT slips were not removed after the mock voting. The counting of these slips has been recommended in booths where the mock poll data was cleared from the VVPAT machines but not from EVMs.

Former CEC speaks

Former Chief Election Commissioner of India N Gopalaswami said that when errors are detected in EVMs, counting VVPAT slips is a reliable alternative.

“Since the polling officer will have information about how many mock votes have been cast and how many votes were cast for each candidate [in the mock poll], it is possible to deduct that number from the total votes cast at a particular polling booth,” said Gopalaswami.

He added: The Commission has taken a calculated risk. The problem will arise only when there is a one or two vote difference.”

But even then, Gopalaswami claimed, there was a solution. “There are machines that could be connected to the EVMs to retrieve information on the time at which the votes were cast,” he said. “Since the presiding officers manually note down the time when the first vote was cast, they could verify the information and deduct the mock votes that were cast before the time when the voting began.”

VVPAT issue in court

Since 2017, 100% VVPAT coverage with EVMs was done in all bye-elections to the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections – in Goa, Gujarat, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura, Karnataka, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.

For the ongoing general elections, however, the Election Commission had said that it would only cross-check EVM votes with the VVPAT slips in one EVM per constituency. In April, however, the Supreme Court ordered that this number should be increased to five randomly selected EVMs per constituency.

On Tuesday, the court declined to hear a review petition filed submitted by 21 Opposition parties urging it to direct the Election Commission to cross-check at least 50% votes using VVPAT slips during the elections.