politics
Bihar Election Results: Here is why the counting dragged on like the US elections
Nov 11, 05:11

The counting of votes for the Bihar election at 55 centres across 38 districts of the state on November 10 took an unusually long time.

Under normal circumstances, the results become clear latest by noon on the day of counting that starts at 8 am.

Results are called out when at least half of the votes are counted. In close fights, such as the Bihar election where the two alliances ended up with a difference of just 15 seats, the counting takes a little longer, but not as long as it turned out to be. The final results were declared post-midnight reminding of the US presidential election results last week that dragged for many days with Joe Biden emerging as the president-elect eventually.

By 2 pm, the Election Commission said it counted 1.5 crore which was just one-third of the total 4.10 crore votes polled in three phases of Bihar elections. By 5:30 pm, the poll panel said it had counted 2.7 crore votes- two-third of the total 4.1 crore votes. By this time on a counting day, the final numbers are usually out.

So why did it take so long? The Election Commission officials said that the process was slow because of the precautions the poll panel took amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The poll panel had increased the number of polling stations from 65,000 in the 2015 assembly polls to 1.06 lakh in this election to ensure social distancing norms due to COVID-19 pandemic were followed. Also, more booths would mean more Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) which in turn means more rounds of counting and the longer than usual time to declare the result.

“There is a significant increase in the number of polling stations. The number of polling stations has gone up by almost 45 percent. The counting process will be a bit longer than it used to be,” said Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar HR Srinivas.

Officials said that there was no change in the counting process but an increase of 63 per cent increase in polling booths this time due to COVID-19 precautions. The number of voters per booth were also reduced from 1,500 in 2015 to 1,000 in 2020.

“The number of tables at each counting centre had been limited to seven, to ensure social distancing, as opposed to 14 under normal circumstances,” Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan Kumar told the Indian Express.

Though the tables were reduced, the counting centres were increased from 38 in 2015 to 55 in 2020 to maintain the speed of counting. Another reason for the delay was a longer time in counting more postal ballots (2.5 lakh) in 2020 compared to 1.5 lakh in 2015 Bihar assembly elections.

Officials said that the delay was anticipated. In a departure from earlier trends, the poll panel addressed three press conferences during the course of counting on Tuesday to explain the delay and share numbers. The last briefing was held at 1 am, one-and-a-half hour before the final numbers were declared.

“The emphasis of the Election Commission is that the procedure and guidelines related to counting and COVID-19 are to be sincerely followed. The Commission has directed that the 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 will take some more time than in normal time,” Umesh Sinha, Director General, Election Commission said in one of the briefings.

At the time of delay in declaring the US election verdict last week many in India had suggested that India's election process is superior. Experts appreciated the Election Commission's management despite COVID-19. Bihar assembly election was the first major voting exercise held in India amid COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Election Commission has done very well to hold press conference - not once but thrice - explaining the procedures and reasons for the likely delay in announcement of results. Communication and transparency are the best remedies to apprehensions and complaints,” former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi said.