India’s top court rules out changes to counting process over voting machine concerns

India's top court on Friday declined to order any changes to the vote-counting process in the ongoing national elections amid allegations of tampering with the electronic voting machines (EVM).

The supreme court rejected petitions seeking a return to the ballot system or to tally all paper slips generated as proof of voting with votes recorded by the electronic machines.

A voter-verified paper audit trail, or VVPAT, generates a paper slip visible that the voter can see through a transparent screen for about seven seconds before it gets stored in a sealed drop box. India has been using EVMs since 2004.

Nearly a billion Indians are eligible to vote in the world’s biggest election to decide if Narendra Modi should stay on as prime minister for a third straight term.

The second phase of voting began on Friday, with 166 million voters eligible to elect 88 of the 543 members of the parliament’s lower house, Lok Sabha.

Rejecting a batch of petitions seeking 100 per cent verification of votes cast on EVMs using the paper trail audit, judge Dipankar Datta said: "Blindly discussing any aspect of the system can lead to unwarranted scepticism and impede progress.”

"Instead, a critical yet constructive approach guided by evidence and reason should be followed to make room for meaningful improvements and to ensure the system's credibility."

Currently, the poll body counts and matches VVPAT paper slips at five randomly selected polling stations in each state legislative assembly constituency, several of which are combined to form one parliamentary seat.

For the ongoing national election, which began on 19 April, over one million polling stations with five million voting machines are being used. The votes will be counted and the results declared on 4 June.

The court, however, issued additional directions for sealing and storing the machines after the voting. It said the Symbol Loading Unit should be sealed and stored for at least for 45 days.

The bench said democracy "is all about maintaining harmony and trust among its pillars".

The court had earlier said it cannot "control the elections".

Several political parties, election watchdogs and critics of the current system have long asked for VVPAT verification to be done at more booths to increase transparency. The Modi government and the election commission have resisted the calls.