Supreme Court rejects plea seeking 100% vote verification with VVPATs

VVPATs for Voter Verification

Judges: Sanjiv Khanna J, Dipankar Datta J

Today, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta rejected all pleas seeking 100% verification of votes cast through Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) with Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). The Court’s decision was pronounced  on the same day as the commencement of the second Phase of the 2024 General Elections.

The Bench had reserved judgement in the case last week after two days of arguments. On the first day, the petitioners had argued that 100% verification of votes was crucial to increase voter confidence. Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Association for Democratic Reforms, the lead petitioner in the case, contended that the present scheme, where VVPAT verification is conducted in only five randomly selected polling stations in a constituency, was insufficient. The transparency rights activist group also alleged instances of “tampering” and data discrepancies. Bhushan suggested returning to paper ballots or allowing the voter to physically deposit the VVPAT slip.

On the second day, the Election Commission of India (ECI) rubbished these claims, stating that ADR’s aspersions were “baseless”. The Bench also questioned the ECI at length about the technology used in the EVM-VVPATs system and enquired after the checks and balances that were in place to ensure that transparency remained intact. 

A week after judgement was reserved on 18 April 2024, the Division Bench convened again. This time, they asked several questions to the ECI on the functioning of the technical features of EVMs. Particularly, they asked questions about the microcontrollers found in the units and how the machines are sealed and secured.

The directions of the Supreme Court

Justices Khanna and Datta authored separate but concurring opinions in the case. Justice Khanna issued the following two directions: 

  1. The Symbol Loading Units (SLUs) used in the VVPATs should be sealed, secured, and stored for 45 days after the election results. The seal should be signed by either the candidate or their representative. The SLUs will be stored along with the EVMs. They will be examined in the same way EVMs are checked. 
  2. In the event of a dispute, a group of engineers from the companies that manufacture the EVMs will examine whether the burnt memory in the semi–controller was tampered with in five percent of the EVMs in a constituency. This must be preceded by a written request from candidates who had the second or third largest votes within seven days after the declaration of results. The expenses for this exercise will be borne by the candidates and will be refunded if tampering is found. 

Justice Datta, in his opinion, cautioned against blindly distrusting a system. This, he said, could lead to “unwarranted suspicion.” He added that the approach must allow “space for improvement, trust, and collaboration.”