Between April 11 and May 19, over 90 crore people are expected to have cast their votes across 10 lakh booths in 543 seats spread over 33 lakh square kilometres.
Even after arranging the logistics for conducting free and fair elections, the work of the Election Commission is not quite done. All of India is now waiting for the final results with bated breath.
Counting of votes is the most critical and tedious process of the election. Even if the slightest discrepancy creeps in, the wrong leader can be placed in power.
Who counts the votes?
Counting happens in the presence of the Returning Officer of the constituency and candidates and their agents. The Returning Officer declares the result when he is certain that the counting has been successfully completed.
In addition, the Election Commission appoints its observers to oversee the process and ensure that it happens in a transparent manner.
Each candidate can appoint up to 16 counting agents from his/her party for each place of counting. The counting agent takes care of the interests of the party.
Besides, there is the counting staff appointed by the EC.
Except for the Returning Officer, counting staff, candidates and their agents, public servants on duty and other persons authorized by the Election Commission of India, no one else has right to admission at the counting venue.
What happens inside the counting room?
The date and place of counting votes is fixed at least a week before the dates of elections are announced.
Inside the counting venue, a number of tables are arranged as per a pre-decided floor plan. The number of tables largely depends on the number of polling stations to be counted, and obviously on the space available and security concerns at play. Usually, one hall cannot have more than 14 counting tables, but there have been exceptions to the rule.
Each table has a paper knife to break open the seals on the EVM, a loudspeaker to announce the result and a blackboard for disseminating information regarding the trends in counting to the media.
No one is allowed to use a mobile phone inside the counting hall, except for the observer appointed by the Election Commission.
The venue is guarded by central security forces in the inner perimeter and state police on the outer perimeter for enhanced security. However, security personnel are not allowed to enter the counting hall.
How are votes counted?
The counting of votes is done simultaneously at more than one place and more than one table in a counting hall.
Postal ballot papers are counted first. Thirty minutes later, the EVMs are brought in. The counting staff and agents inspect EVMs before opening it. Then, the counting of votes begins. The EVM is powered on and the seal over the Result button is pierced. The button is then pressed and it displays the total number of votes recorded for each candidate at a particular polling station.
After counting for one round is over, EVMs are to be resealed. The Returning Officer waits for two minutes, during which any candidate who believes there has been a discrepancy can ask for a recount. The Returning Officer decides if the appeal to recount is valid.
Read More | What are VVPAT machines? Are they better than EVMs and ballot papers?
Following the resolution of any discrepancy, the Returning Officer seeks the observer’s clearance and declares the result. At the same time, the Returning Officer reports the result to the Election Commission.
With the use of EVMs since the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, both the casting and counting of votes has become relatively less cumbersome as compared to the old paper ballot system.
However, auditing the paper trail through VVPAT machines is expected to delay the announcement of results this time.