The seven-phase Lok Sabha 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 also tally a limited number of VVPAT slips on 23 May.
As India once again experiments with electoral process, it is pertinent to look at how the 2019 elections stands in comparison to the 2014 polls.
How will votes be counted on 23 May
According to a report in The Economic Times, the counting of EVMs with VVPAT paper slips will take place in special and secured booths under the close supervision of the Returning Officer and the oversight of the observer. The report added that the VVPAT counting rooms will be set up in every polling booth. These rooms will be enclosed 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 political party candidates. There are total of 4215 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 less than two percent.
On 8 April 2019, the Supreme Court of India had 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 election.
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.
According to 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 noted.
2014 elections smaller in scale; introduced NOTA, VVPATs
In the 2014 elections, India had 815 million voters, while at least 1.7 million EVMs were used in the nine-phase election. The Election Commission had also set up 9 lakh polling booths across the country. In the ongoing elections, there are nearly 84 million more voters. Meanwhile, there has been a 10 percent jump in the total number of polling booths. While the 2014 election was spread across nine phases, it lasted only 35 days. On the other hand, the ongoing election, though spread across seven phases, will last for 38 days.
The 2014 elections witnessed the debut of the VVPATs. Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Election Commission had procured at least 20,000 VVPATs. However, the VVPAT experiment was limited to just eight Lok Sabha constituencies in 2014. Lucknow, Jadavpur, Raipur, Gandhinagar, Bangalore South, Chennai Central, Patna Sahib, Mizoram were the Parliamentary Constituencies where the VVPATs were used during the 2014 elections.
The 2014 election saw the first-ever instance of the None of the Above (NOTA) option being offered to the voters. The decision was taken after the Supreme Court in 2013 directed the Election Commission to offer voters with the right to reject all candidates. Thus, a voter who did not want to vote for any of the candidates could choose to vote NOTA. In fact, 1.08 percent of the voters chose to go with NOTA in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Moreover, the highest number of votes i.e. 46,559 was in Nilgris Lok Sabha constituency in Tamil Nadu.
The Election Commission this time is expecting a delay of four hours to a day since it also has to count VVPAT paper slips of 5 EVMs in every Assembly Constituency. It is likely that the final results will be clear only on 24 May. However, this wasn’t the case in 2014, when the Election Commission had to primarily count postal ballots and EVMs. Back then, the poll body had said that the counting of votes would be completed by 4 PM on 16 May – the date of counting.
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Updated Date: May 15, 2019 13:24:37 IST