The Election Commission on Wednesday introduced a new protocol for handling and storing Symbol Loading Units in compliance with the Supreme Court’s recent order.

A Symbol Loading Unit is used to upload the names and symbols of candidates contesting in a constituency on the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail unit, which is then used to verify votes cast through the Electronic Voting Machines.

As per the earlier procedure, the ballot unit, the control unit and the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail machine were the only components that were stored for 45 days after the poll results.

On April 26, the court issued directions to the poll panel to also seal and store the Symbol Loading Units in a container and keep them in a strongroom along with the Electronic Voting Machines, for at least 45 days after the declaration of the results.

The Symbol Loading Units were handed over to the local poll officials by the engineers of the Bharat Electronics Limited or the Electronics Corporation of India Limited before voting. The two companies are public sector companies that manufacture the units. These Symbol Loading Units were returned to the engineers of the two companies, under the earlier procedure.

However, according to the poll panel’s revised protocol, the chief electoral officers at the state level have been directed to store the Symbol Loading Units.

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The Supreme Court had given the directions to the Commission on April 26, while rejecting all pleas seeking the tallying of all Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips to verify votes cast through Electronic Voting Machines.

The petitioners had sought a return to the ballot paper system of voting or 100% verification of the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail slips as they cited reports of Electronic Voting Machines having malfunctioned.

A Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail is a machine that prints a paper slip of the candidate’s name, serial number and the party’s symbol after people have cast their vote. To avoid election fraud, it displays the paper slip for seven seconds for people to check if their vote has been cast correctly.

After a 2019 Supreme Court order, Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail slips from only five randomly selected polling stations in each Assembly segment are verified.

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