Explainer: What Is Form 17c, And Why Did Election Commission Refuse To Make It Public?

Explainer: What Is Form 17c, And Why Did Election Commission Refuse To Make It Public?

The ADR has filed an application with the Supreme Court calling for the publication of voter turnout data of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. In addition to scanned copies of Form 17C the Supreme Court has urged the ECI to publish data on votes cast.

Manasi KambleUpdated: Monday, June 03, 2024, 09:59 AM IST
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Election Commission of India | Representative Image

The Alternative Dispute Redressal (ADR) has filed an application in the Supreme Court calling for the publication of voter turnout data within for each phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The Supreme Court has urged to direct the ECI to publish data of votes polled and scanned copies of Form 17C, which includes data on the number of votes polled in each constituency and other vital information.

In the current Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission of India (ECI) is embroiled in a controversy concerning the transparency of voter turnout data. The poll body decided not to post Form 17C, an important record of the votes cast at each polling place, on its official website, and notified the Supreme Court of this decision on May 22.

The decision of the ECI is being made against the backdrop of the upcoming Lok Sabha election final stages. Examining the relevance of Form 17C and the factors contributing to its recent rise in prominence is crucial given that the nation is about to elect a new administration.

What Is Form 17C?

Form 17C is a nationwide voting booth-by-polling-booth comprehensive voting record. It contains a multitude of information, such as the number of voters assigned to each polling place, the total number of voters registered in a given area, the number of voters who choose not to cast a ballot, the number of voters who are denied the opportunity to vote, the total number of votes totaled by Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), and details regarding ballots and paper seals.

The names of the candidates and the total number of votes each received are listed in the second half of Form 17C. It also sheds light on whether the votes cast at a particular booth match the total number of votes cast.

As per the Indian Express, in compliance with Rules 49S and 56C of the 1961 Conduct of Election Rules, the presiding officer generates a report of the votes cast in Part-I of Form 17C and distributes it to each polling agent.

Each candidate or their representative must sign Part II of Form 17C, which is filled out by the counting station supervisor. The Returning Officer reviews this section.

Argument Over Voter Turnout Statistics

Opposition leaders and activists have been increasingly critical of the ECI for its tardiness in disclosing final voter turnout statistics.

The electoral body revealed the final voter turnout figures eleven days after the first round of voting on April 19. The remaining three phases of voting were then postponed by four days each.

Additionally, critics have cited the ECI's failure to reveal the total number of voters in each Parliamentary constituency for this election cycle. Concerns have also been expressed about the abrupt increase in final voter turnout numbers during the early phases in comparison to the preliminary data that was made public on election day.

EC Response  

The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-governmental organization, petitioned the EC to post scanned copies of Form 17C on its website as soon as voting is over.

The Supreme Court (SC) ordered the EC to provide a reply in response. The Indian Express report claims that the electoral body drew attention to the discrepancy between the non-statutory announcement of voter turnout on polling day through press releases and its Voter Turnout app and the statutory disclosure of votes recorded at each polling station under Form 17C.

The EC asserted before the apex court, “It is submitted that there is no legal mandate to provide Form 17C to any person other than the candidate or his agent.”

In its affidavit, the EC argued that uploading Form 17C on its website could result in "mischief" and that there is a chance of image manipulation, which could cause "widespread discomfort and mistrust" due to concerns over potential tampering.

“A wholesome disclosure of Form 17C is amenable to mischief and vitiation of (the) entire electoral space. At the moment, the original Form 17C is only available in the Strong Room and a copy only with the polling agents whose signature it bears… indiscriminate disclosure, public posting on the website increased the possibility of the images being morphed, including the counting results which then can create widespread public discomfort and mistrust in the entire electoral processes,” the ECI highlighted.

Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal said on the Election Commission of India opposing the plea for public disclosure of Form 17C.

"The ECI has filed an affidavit in the SC stating it has no legal mandate to upload Form 17 which is a record of votes polled at a polling station. Form 17 is signed by Presiding Officer and given to Polling Agent at the end of polling. The information is also directly sent to ECI. Now why does the ECI not put that data on website? What's the problem? What can happen in the process is the number of votes that are counted would in fact be more than the number of votes that are polled. We don't know what's correct? Why ECI is hesitating to put it on website. Nobody can morph it. Parties are having doubt."

Form 17c Samples

Form 17C sample (Part 1)

Form 17C sample (Part 1) |

Form 17C sample (Part 2)

Form 17C sample (Part 2) |

Conflict Over Voter Turnout

The Supreme Court questioned the electoral body about its reluctance to release voter turnout data during a prior hearing on May 17.

In its affidavit, the ECI chastised the ADR, alleging that it was trying to "create an entitlement in the middle of the election period."

The NGO had expressed concerns about the significant increase in final figures compared to initial voter turnout percentages and had protested what it considered to be excessive delays by the EC in disclosing final voter turnout data.

The EC argued before the Supreme Court that the claims of a spike in final voter turnout data during the first two phases were "misleading and unsubstantiated." The Supreme Court is scheduled to reconvene on May 24 to further deliberate on the matter.

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