While disposing a petition relating to the visibility of a party's symbol on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), the Kerala High Court emphasized upon the importance of being able to see the name, photograph, and symbol with clarity.
Underscoring the need for clear symbols/photographs in the election process, a Bench of Justice N Nagaresh remarked,
"It is important and essential that citizens, who are to caste (cast) vote, are able to see the name, photograph and symbol of all candidates with sufficient clarity. This is essential for any free and fair election."
The Court was hearing a petition by Twenty20, a registered unrecognised political party.
The party claimed that the name, photograph, and symbol of its candidates in the Kothamangalam, Thrikkakkara and Vypin Assembly Constituencies were not clear and visible in the EVMs slated to be used during the Kerala Legislative Assembly polls on April 6, 2021.
Asserting that every citizen had a valuable constitutional right to make a valid choice of candidate after properly seeing and understanding the candidate, name and symbol, the party's counsel Advocate Blaze K Jose claimed that their candidates and symbols were not given as much prominence as those of other parties.
Therefore, the party sought direction to the Election Commission to ensure that the party's symbols were as clear as those of other candidates on the EVMs.
Bringing on record a photograph of the EVMs in use, the Standing Counsel for the Election Commission Deepu Lal Mohan argued that the party's symbol was clear and visible on the EVM. It was also submitted that any direction from the court would interfere with the free flow of the election.
Ruling out any intereference considering that the election is scheduled for April 6, 2021 and that the EVMs were prepared and Postal Ballot collected, the Court reasoned that any direction that may be given to the respondents at this stage is likely to slow down the election process.
"Therefore, there is no question of giving any direction to the respondents to make any substitution at this stage", the Court said.
In the circumstances, the Court stated that it was disposing of the petition directing the Commission to "ensure that the name, photograph and symbol of the candidates belonging to the petitioner-Party are sufficiently clear so that voters can make an easy and informed choice."
Other Petitions filed in the High Court in the run up to the Kerala Assembly Elections 2021
The petition forms one of many pleas that have reached the Court in the last two weeks assailing various steps in the electoral process.
First, three candidates belonging to the National Democratic Alliance moved the High Court averring illegal rejection of their candidature by the Returning Officers. The three claimed that the rejection of their candidature for technical defects in their nomination papers was tainted with mala fides. Nomination papers filed by other candidates which had similar defects were accepted by Returning officers, it was contended.
Soon after, Leader of Opposition in theKerala Legislative Assembly Ramesh Chennithala moved the High Court alleging the existence of over 3 lakh double entries in the electoral rolls, giving rise to possible double/bogus voting. The Election Commission on the other hand submitted in Court that only 38586 such entries had been identified.
Recording a prima facie finding that there were discrepancies in the electoral rolls, the Court directed the Election Commission to no voter voted more than once. In this respect, the Court issued a slew of directives to the Commission, directing the Commission to warn persons of consequences of voting twice, collecting affidavits, photographs and signatures of those whose names appeared twice, among other directions. In the course of the judgment, the Court noted that the Election Commission had taken steps to identifying the double entries, pursuant to representations made by the Leader of Opposition.
UDF Candidates EM Augusthy, D Kumar, Cyriac Thomas and Shanymol Usman on Saturday filed similar pleas in the High Court alleging the existence of double entries in the constituencies of Udumbanchola, Devikulam, Peerumedu, and Aroor. Their petitions have been disposed after a Special Sitting of Court on Saturday.
Close on the heels of the Leader of the Opposition's petition, UDF candidates K Muralidharan, Anand Jayan and Deepak Joy, candidates for the constituencies of Nemom, Vamanapuram and Vypin respectively seeking the safety of polled postal ballots.
After the Election Commission's Standing Counsel submitted that the postal ballots would be safeguarded and secured in strong rooms, sealed in the presence of the candidates of the respective constituency, and the entire process videographed, the Court closed proceedings. The Court enjoined the Election Commission to make sure the polled ballots were secured and safeguarded in the manner envisaged in the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
The Kerala State Government through Additional Advocate General Ranjith Thampan moved the Kerala High Court last week challenging the Election Commission's halt on the government's special schemeproviding rice and other essential items to 'non-priority' segments of thepopulation (blue and white ration card holders) on the ground that the same violated the Model Code of Conduct. The Court has issued a stay on the Commission's order, in view of the fact that the scheme was announced prior to the commencement of the election and that the scheme was to draw to a close on March 31. The Court however emphasized that the party-in-power could not use the scheme for promotion or to influence voters in its favour in violation of the Model Code of Conduct.