EC conducts counting procedures with due adherence to Covid norms

EC conducts counting procedures with due adherence to Covid norms

NEW DELHI: As the slow-trickling results in Bihar made the wait for the ‘final picture’ longer, the Election Commission chose to play it cool, settling for scrupulous and sincere following of all counting procedures, with due adherence to Covid-19 guidelines, over any “haste” in declaration of results.
“The Commission has directed that counting officials need not be in a haste or hurry to declare the results and they should follow all the procedures and take as much time as it is naturally required….It is natural that it may take some more time than normal as you all know this pandemic is not a normal time,” EC secretary general Umesh Singh told reporters on Tuesday.
In any case, “most results by late afternoon” appear to have become a thing of the past ever since the Supreme Court ordered voter verified paper audit trails (VVPAT) slips to be counted for five polling stations per assembly constituency. Counting 1,200-1,400 slips manually per polling station in the last round takes an average 45 minutes to an hour, after which the result can be declared.
During the polls in Madhya Pradesh in December 2018, results for Bhind-Morena came as late as 8 am on the next day of counting.
Interestingly, this was not really the problem in Bihar this time, with the total number of voters per polling station cut to 1,000 from 1,500 in the interest of safety from Covid. With an average 57% turnout in Bihar, EC officials said VVPAT slips to be counted in the final round were far less.
In Bihar, the slower pace of results could be explained by many factors. First, the limiting of voters per polling station to 1,000 from 1,500 meant 63% rise in polling stations and a matching rise in EVMs deployed.
So results had to be taken from far more EVMs. Secondly, the broad guidelines issued by EC required counting tables to be cut from an average 14 to 7, though Commission officials said this was balanced by an increase in the number of counting centres, from 38 in 2015 to 55 now.
On an average, 35 rounds of counting were to be undertaken per assembly constituency, which went up further to even 50-plus in a bigger constituency. Each round takes 30-40 minutes as the results need tabulation and distribution to all the candidates and counting agents.
Another factor that made the wait for results longer was the rise in number of postal ballots. While 1.6 lakh ballots were sent to service voters, another 52,000 senior citizens above 80 years of age, people with disabilities and voters engaged in essential services opted to vote by postal ballot. Add to this around 5 lakh election staff — much more than in 2015 — many of whom too would have exercised the postal ballot option. Since postal ballots are first to be counted, the initial rounds of counting may have stretched a bit.
Yet, EC not only did multiple media briefings on counting updates till late in the night, in a break from tradition, but deputy election commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar also insisted that “there is no delay in dissemination of results and the counting was progressing fast”.
Recounts in a few cases — in view of the May 2019 rule by EC directing mandatory recounting/reverification of postal ballot where the margin of votes is less that number of postal ballots rejected as invalid — led to allegations and protests by the losing parties, while claims by RJD that returning officers had congratulated 119 candidates on their ‘win’ but the results were not being declared, were countered by EC saying its website had the properly authenticated results.
EC also denied an earlier claim that postal ballot counting was stopped midway in some seats, saying this could not be substantiated after checking with the Bihar chief electoral officer.

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