Vote counting: Postal ballots to be counted first, says CEC

Several INDIA bloc parties had met the ECI on Sunday to request that the counting of postal ballots be completed first

CEC Rajiv Kumar at the press meet (photo: Vipin/NH)
CEC Rajiv Kumar at the press meet (photo: Vipin/NH)

Ashlin Mathew

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has said counting of votes on Tuesday, 4 June, will begin with postal ballots and only after half-an-hour after the start time of 8.00 am will the counting of EVM votes begin.

“This is compliant with section 54 of the Election Rules, which has been there since 1961. As there are fewer postal ballots, it will get over first. There is no doubt about it. We cannot change a rule midway just because of doubts,” chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar said at a press conference in Delhi on the eve of counting for the Lok Sabha elections 2024.

“The entire counting process is absolutely robust. It works similar to the precision of a clock,” the CEC said.

In a statement released on Monday, senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi thanked the ECI for agreeing to count the postal ballots first, one or two days before the counting of votes.

On Sunday, several members of INDIA bloc parties, including Singhvi, had met the EC to request that the counting of postal ballots be completed first, and the results declared before the EVM results are announced.

The Conduct of Election Rules 1961 and Handbook for Returning Officer and Counting Agents (August 2023) states that the returning officer shall first deal with the postal ballot papers in the manner hereinafter provided.

A counting centre where EVMs are being kept ahead of counting day in New Delhi (photo: Vipin/NH)
A counting centre where EVMs are being kept ahead of counting day in New Delhi (photo: Vipin/NH)

The Opposition memorandum had said, “As per ECI letter number 470/2019/SDR (dt. 18.05.2019), your commission considered the fact that the counting of postal ballots would require additional time — due to the introduction of ETPBS (electronically transmitted postal ballot system), casting of postal ballot by election duty staff etc. and requirement of mandatory QR code reading for ETPBS. In view of the same, your commission withdrew the instruction that the penultimate round of EVM counting should be taken up only after the completion of the postal ballot counting.

“The aforementioned direction of the ECI is now even reflected in the ECI’s handbooks for the returning officers, candidates and counting agents, i.e., the direction that the penultimate round of EVM counting should be taken up only after completion of postal ballot counting has been removed,” said the Opposition letter. On Sunday, the ECI had not responded to the Opposition.

Addressing the press conference, Kumar said the voter turnout in Jammu & Kashmir was the highest in the last four decades and this had given them the confidence of holding the Assembly elections soon.

“The story of J&K is one that gives us hope and shows that people want to participate in the democratic process. People have shown that they want their own governance by choosing it themselves. We will start the process of Assembly elections and we are very enthused,” Kumar said. The Supreme Court had said a few months ago that the ECI should hold Assembly elections in J&K before September 2024.

For Tuesday's counting, Kumar said all candidates and counting agents can enter the hall and should be able to see everything in front of their eyes. “They will be allowed to videograph the entire process. We are always ready. The system of Indian elections is such that it accounts for a thorough post-election scrutiny. Challenge us if you think we are going wrong somewhere,” said Kumar addressing the concerns of the Opposition leaders.

ECI said the start and end time and date of the voting process will be confirmed by counting agents and the details of the slips and tags will be verified by counting agents when the CU (control unit) is brought for counting will also be done.

The counting officials have been instructed to allow all counting agents to record the results before moving from one machine to another and one round to next, said Kumar.

At the press conference, Kumar said no major incident of violence was reported from trouble-torn Manipur. However, of the 39 repolls in 2024, 25 were in Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. There were no repolls in 27 states. In 2019, there were 540 repolls.

Regarding seizures, the ECI said the commission made record seizures worth almost Rs 10,000 crore. "The Election Commission made a record seizure record of almost Rs 10,000 crore during this election. This is nearly three times the value seized in 2019," said Kumar.

Acknowledging that the ECI had also heard of the Opposition jibe of calling them "laapata (missing) gentlemen”, Kumar said, “We were always here, never went missing. We were working behind the scenes,” Kumar said.

Asked about the learning from this election process, the Commission said the biggest learning was that the poll process should be completed before summer.

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