The seven-phase election in India will come to a close on 19 May. With over 900 million voters spread across the diverse topography, India always grabs the envious record of holding “the world’s biggest electoral exercise” every five years. But it is not just the size of the electorate that makes Indian elections unique. The process of counting votes too has witnessed a dynamic shift in the last two decades.
After over five decades of ballot papers, India completely shifted to Electronic Voting machines in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. However, in an attempt to bring more transparency in the counting process, the Election Commission will not only be counting the votes in EVMs but it will also tally a limited number of VVPAT paper slips with the votes recorded on the machine.
Supreme Court intervention to increase transparency
On 8 April 2019, the Supreme Court of India directed the Election Commission to tally the VVPAT slips of at least five EVMs in each Assembly segment in a Lok Sabha constituency. Earlier, the Election Commission used to count the VVPAT slips of just one EVM in every Assembly Constituency. It is to be noted that over 1.7 million VVPATs are being used in this elections.
While issuing the order, the Supreme Court said that such a practice will ensure “greatest degree of accuracy, satisfaction” in the election process. Nevertheless, the apex court also added that it does not doubt the credibility of EVMs or the efficacy of the present system.
How the counting is done
According to a report in The Economic Times, the counting of votes will take place in special and secured booths under the close supervision of the returning officer and the poll observer on 23 May.
According to the report, the VVPAT counting rooms will be set up in every polling booth. These rooms will be surrounded by a wire mesh, which will keep away unauthorised people from accessing the paper slips.
The selection of the five EVMs in every Assembly Constituency will be done by a draw of lots in the presence of all the candidates. There are a total of 4,215 Assembly segments in India. When the five EVMs are chosen from each of these segments, it would increase the VVPAT verification percentage from 0.44 to around two percent.
As per the Election Commission guidelines, if there is any discrepancy in the vote count between EVMs and VVPATs, then the latter will prevail. The final result sheet will also be amended as per the VVPAT paper slips count. Notably, the whole counting process will be filmed by the authorities.
“As per Rule 56D (4) (b) of the Conduct of Elections Rules 1961, if there is any discrepancy between EVM count and paper slip count, the paper slip count shall prevail. Hence, if there is discrepancy between the count of votes displayed on the Control Unit and the count of printed-paper slips in respect of that Polling Station, the result sheet will be amended as per the printed-paper slips count,” the Election Commission manual states.
EC flags logistical issues
The Opposition parties have been demanding that at least 50 percent of the EVMs being used should be tallied with the VVPATs. However, the Election Commission has been opposing the demand citing logistical issues. The apex poll body also told the Supreme Court that increasing the number of VVPATs for tallying of votes will delay the results by 6 to 7 days. The Election Commission has also said that the 8 April Supreme Court order will also lead to a slight delay in announcing the results this time.
Speaking to the media after Supreme Court rejected the Opposition’s demand for 50 percent verification of VVPAT slips, Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain said, “Counting of five VVPATs will delay overall counting by five hours. It takes an hour to tally the VVPATs of one machine, with four more it will take another four hours... The election results may be out on May 23 night or 24 morning”.
Since the last two years, the Opposition has been raising concerns over the alleged manipulation of EVMs by the BJP in several elections across India. In order to bring more transparency into the process, the Opposition had met the EC in February and demanded matching of results of 50 percent EVMs with VVPATs before it declared the results.
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Updated Date: May 17, 2019 11:24:19 IST