Old news clip shared with electronic voting machine 'tampering' claim as India votes in 2024

Footage of Indian election officials pressing buttons on an electronic voting machine does not show fraud in the 2024 polls, contrary to social media posts that claimed it showed the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attempting to fix the outcome of the vote. The video, which circulated on Facebook as Indians cast their ballots in the world's biggest democratic exercise, was in fact filmed in 2017. India's Election Commission said officials had failed to delete old data from the electronic voting machine, which caused it to produce incorrect ballot slips.

"In the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, pressed the button for the elephant, the slip came in favour of the lotus," read part of the Hindi-language caption of a Facebook post sharing the video on April 19, 2024.

The elephant and lotus are the party symbols representing the opposition Bahujan Samaj Party and the ruling-BJP (archived link).

The accompanying video is a news report by Indian broadcaster ABP, with Hindi-language text overlaid that read: "Pressed the button for elephant but received a slip for lotus."

The one-minute, 30-second clip showed a group of election officials pressing the buttons on an electronic voting machine and a slip displaying a vote for the BJP being dispensed.

According to the news anchor, 19 officials from the Bhind district in India's central Madhya Pradesh state were suspended following complaints from the opposition Congress and Aam Aadmi Party alleging the machines dispensed slips in favour of the BJP, even when a button for a different party's candidate was pressed.

Screenshot of the misleading post, taken on April 26, 2024

The video was shared alongside similar misleading claims on Facebook here and on X here

It surfaced at the start of India's six-week general election, which will see nearly a billion voters head to the polls to elect the 543-member Lok Sabha -- the lower house of the country's legislature -- in the world's largest democratic exercise.

Incumbent Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all but assured victory, as a weakened opposition is pushed to the sidelines. 

Since 2004, Indians have cast their ballots using electronic voting machines by pressing a button that corresponds to their chosen candidate's name, symbol and serial number (archived link).

The machine has a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) unit which displays a slip with the corresponding ballot information for seven seconds before storing it in a sealed drop box (archived link).

India's opposition parties have repeatedly raised doubts about the reliability of the machines -- Congress' Rahul Gandhi alleged ahead of the April polls that the machines could be hacked (archived link).

But the false posts in fact share a news reel about an incident with the voting machines in 2017.

Video from 2017

A combination of reverse image searches and keyword searches on Google found a longer version of the video posted on YouTube on April 1, 2017 by Hindi-language broadcaster ABP News (archived link).

The video is titled: "EVM Controversy: SP, Collector of Bhind removed."

The clip shared in the misleading posts corresponds to the first one-minute, 30-seconds of the YouTube video.

According to the report, the video shows officials testing a voting machine in Bhind.

During the test, the machine's voter-verified paper audit trail unit dispensed slips displaying the BJP's lotus symbol, regardless of the candidate selected on the voting machine, the report explained.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the clip shared in the misleading posts (left) and the video posted on ABP's YouTube channel (right):

Screenshot comparison of the clip shared in the misleading posts (left) and the video uploaded on ABP’s official YouTube channel (right):

The Times of India reported that the Madhya Pradesh government suspended 20 officials on April 1, 2017, after Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party lodged complaints, saying it raised the possibility of the machines being tampered with ahead of elections (archived link).

On April 7, 2017, the Election Commission said there was no evidence either machine used in the trial had been tampered with, the Indian Express reported

It said an inquiry found a "lapse" on the part of the poll officers who did not delete data from a previous election in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. This led to the machines dispensing voter verification slips with candidate information from that election instead.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission posted on X that the video circulating online was from 2017 and referred to its statement on the incident at the time (archived link). 

"Accuracy of functioning of EVM & VVPAT is beyond doubt," it added.

AFP has previously debunked misinformation around India's election here, here and here


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