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Form 17C Data Debate: Transparency in Elections



  May 27, 2024

FORM 17C DATA DEBATE



Background:

The Supreme Court is set to hear a petition seeking the Election Commission of India (ECI) to upload polling station-wise voter turnout data on its website within 48 hours of the conclusion of each phase of the Lok Sabha elections. This request comes amidst concerns over discrepancies in voter turnout data.

Why Publish Form 17C Data?

Form 17C records the number of votes polled at each booth. Publishing this data online would enhance transparency and allow the public to verify the authenticity of the polling data. The main reasons for this demand include:

1. Transparency: Ensuring that the voting process is transparent and free from manipulation.

2. Public Verification: Allowing voters and civil society to cross-check the reported voter turnout.

3. Discrepancies: Addressing concerns about differences between initial voter turnout figures and final percentages published by the ECI.

What is Form 17C?

- Form 17C: It records the number of votes cast at each polling station.

Contains information such as EVM identification numbers, the total number of electors, the number of voters who cast their votes, and the number of voters who chose not to vote.

Concerns Raised:

1. Discrepancies: There have been significant differences between the initial voter turnout figures released soon after polling and the final percentages. For example, provisional polling percentages for the first phase of elections increased by over 5% in the final figures.

2. Data Access: While Form 17C is shared with polling agents, not all political parties can afford to have agents at every booth, making it difficult for smaller parties and independents to access this data.

3. Delayed Release: In the recent elections, there was a delay in publishing voter turnout data, with only percentages released, not the absolute numbers.

Election Commission's Response:

1. No Legal Obligation: The ECI maintains that it is not legally required to publish the absolute number of votes polled online.

2. Transparency Measures: The ECI states that copies of Form 17C are already shared with polling agents immediately after polling as a measure of transparency.

3. Potential Confusion: The ECI argues that publishing Form 17C data online could cause confusion, especially since it includes postal ballot counts, and may be misused to question the electoral process.

Supreme Court's Role:

The petition seeks the Supreme Court's intervention to direct the ECI to publish scanned copies of Form 17C online. The Court has asked the ECI why it cannot upload this data, noting that it should be available by the evening after polling concludes.

Experts' Opinions:

- Need for Transparency: Experts argue that publishing Form 17C data online would enhance transparency and trust in the electoral process.

- Access Issues: Smaller parties and independent candidates often lack the resources to deploy polling agents at every booth, making it difficult for them to access Form 17C data through traditional means.

Conclusion:

The demand to publish Form 17C data online aims to address concerns about transparency and the integrity of the electoral process. The Supreme Court's intervention is sought to ensure that this data is readily accessible to the public, allowing for greater scrutiny and verification of voter turnout figures.



SRIRAM’s


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