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LS Polls 2024: ECI assures robust counting process on June 4; how votes are counted & how to check results?

Ahead of the crucial June 4 counting of votes in the seven-phase Lok Sabha Elections 2024, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Monday assured a robust and transparent counting process.

LS Polls 2024: ECI assures robust counting process on June 4; how votes are counted & how to check results? snt
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First Published Jun 3, 2024, 2:00 PM IST

Ahead of the crucial June 4 counting of votes in the seven-phase Lok Sabha Elections 2024, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Monday assured a robust and transparent counting process. Details about the counting process was shared after CEC Rajiv Kumar announced that India created a world record with 64.2 crore voters, including 31.2 crore women, participating in the Lok Sabha elections this year.

Talking about the counting process in Monday's press briefing, CEC Rajiv Kumar stated, "The entire counting process is absolutely robust. It works similar to the precision of a clock."

How voted will be counted on June 4: ECI's Step-by-step process

The seven-phase polling for all 543 Lok Sabha constituencies across 28 states and 8 union territories concluded on Saturday, June 1, with results set to be announced on Tuesday, June 4. The elections began with Phase 1 on April 19, followed by Phase 2 on April 26, Phase 3 on May 7, Phase 4 on May 13, Phase 5 on May 20, Phase 6 on May 25, and the final phase on June 1, 2024.

Also read: Lok Sabha Elections 2024: India sets world record with 642 million voters; ECI gives standing ovation (WATCH)

According to the Election Commission, the counting of votes for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, along with the state Legislative Assemblies of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, and bye-elections to Assembly constituencies, will begin at 8 am on Tuesday, June 4.

Vote counting for the state Legislative Assembly elections in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh took place on Sunday, June 2. In Sikkim, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) led by Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang achieved a dominant victory, winning 31 out of 32 seats. In Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP secured 46 out of 60 seats to form the government.

Rules of counting

According to the handbook issued by the Election Commission for election purposes, the counting of votes is governed by Rule 66A of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, as amended by the Conduct of Elections (Amendment) Rules, 1992.

Under Rule 66A, the provisions of rules 50 to 54 apply to the timing and location of vote counting, the appointment and dismissal of counting agents, access to the counting venue, and the preservation of voting confidentiality. These rules are applied similarly in constituencies using the traditional system of ballot papers and ballot boxes. Additionally, Rule 54A, which addresses the counting of postal ballot papers, is extended to constituencies using voting machines, given the similarity in the postal voting procedure.

Rule 66A introduces three new rules: Rules 55C, 56C, and 57C. These rules cover the scrutiny and examination of voting machines before counting, the actual vote counting process recorded in the voting machines, and the sealing of voting machines following the counting procedure.

The handbook also clarifies that to eliminate any uncertainty or ambiguity, the amendment rules specify that rules 60 to 66, which cover continuous counting, recommencement of counting after a fresh poll, recount of votes, declaration of election results, counting at multiple locations, and granting of certificates of election to successful candidates, shall also apply to voting by voting machines. Additionally, any reference in those rules to a "ballot paper" shall be interpreted as including a reference to the voting machine.

Counting of votes is Returning Officer's responsibility

According to electoral regulations, the task of tallying votes falls under the purview of the Returning Officer, an official designated by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in collaboration with the state government to supervise each electoral district. Assistant Returning Officers also hold the legal authority to oversee the vote counting process. If a Returning Officer is responsible for multiple Parliamentary or Assembly constituencies, their assistants may conduct the vote counting for individual segments separately.

As outlined in Rule 51 of the Conduct of Elections Rules 1961, the Returning Officer must notify each candidate or their election representative in writing, at least a week before polling day, about the date, time, and location for vote counting, including any special arrangements for counting stations.

As per guidelines provided by the ECI’s Handbook, the vote counting process is conducted at Counting Centres, which may consist of one or more Counting Halls. Ideally, these centres are situated at district headquarters, although in exceptional circumstances, they may be located at sub-divisional headquarters.

For Lok Sabha elections, it is preferable for all Assembly segments within a Parliamentary constituency to be counted at a single location. However, if challenges such as large geographical areas, significant distances, difficult terrain, space constraints, or logistical issues arise, separate counting for Assembly segments is permissible, particularly if the Parliamentary constituency spans multiple districts. Each Counting Centre and Hall is assigned a unique identity number.

Typically, each Counting Hall should accommodate between 7 and 14 counting tables for the Control Unit of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), along with an extra table designated for counting postal ballots. Any deviation from this standard table count requires specific approval from the Commission through the Chief Electoral Officer, who must explicitly address this in the report or recommendation. Furthermore, each hall should be designated for counting votes from only one Assembly constituency or segment at a time.

In the context of simultaneous counting of votes in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, various scenarios concerning the duties of the Returning Officer of the Assembly constituency (AC) and the Assistant Returning Officer of the Assembly segment (AS) within the Parliamentary constituency (PC) are contemplated:

a) When separate Counting Halls for the Lok Sabha and Legislative Assembly are available, they can serve for both the Assembly Constituency (AC) and Assembly Segment (AS) counting. In such a scenario, the Returning Officers for the AC/AS and Assistant Returning Officers may oversee the counting process for the Assembly Segment, while the Assistant Returning Officer of the AC manages the Assembly constituency counting.

b) In cases where separate halls are not available, half of the counting tables within a single hall are allocated for the Parliamentary Constituency (PC) and the other half for the Assembly Constituency (AC). Counting agents are seated accordingly to represent candidates for both the PC and AC. As Strong Rooms for the PC and AC are distinct, a designated path must be established for transporting Control Units, Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs), and other materials. Additionally, the hall should be partitioned into two sections using wire mesh.

In locations like Odisha, where simultaneous Parliamentary and Assembly elections occur, the counting area is divided. The initial seven tables are designated for tallying Assembly election votes, while the remaining tables are allocated for the Parliamentary seats.

Counting tables are positioned against a barricade made of woodblock and wire mesh. Behind this barrier, Counting Agents sit or stand, unable to physically access the Control Units (CUs), Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs), or Postal Ballots but maintaining a clear view. Clear signage directs counting staff, candidates, Counting Agents, and media personnel.

In each Counting Hall, a large blackboard, whiteboard, or TV displays candidates' names and round numbers. Round results are presented after observer certification, followed by the declaration from the Returning Officer. Control Units for the next round are introduced from the Strong Room only after this declaration.

Every counting table, including those designated for Postal Ballots, is assigned one Micro Observer, who is not below group 'C' officials. The Observer trains the Micro Observer to ensure the integrity of the counting process.

Eligibility of counting agent

According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), there are no specific qualifications mandated by law for individuals to serve as Counting Agents. However, candidates are advised to appoint individuals aged 18 years and above to ensure effective representation during the vote-counting process.

Each candidate is entitled to appoint as many counting agents as there are counting tables in their constituency, including those designated for the counting of postal ballots. Additionally, one additional counting agent can be appointed to oversee the counting process at the Returning Officer’s table in the absence of the candidate or their election agent.

The appointment of Counting Agents can be made either by the candidates themselves or by their election agents, using Form 18 as specified in the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961.

Also read: PM Modi's hat-trick predicted fueled by South, Bengal & Odisha; check state-wise exit poll predictions

Counting process

According to ECI guidelines, the Returning Officer (RO) must commence the counting process promptly at the designated time. The Polled Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) Strong Room is to be opened in the presence of an Observer, the RO/ARO(s), and the candidates/their election agents. After recording necessary entries in the log book, the seal of the lock is checked, shown to the candidates/election agents, and then broken. This entire procedure must be recorded via video with date-time stamping. Continuous closed-circuit television (CCTV) coverage is mandated to document the movement of all Control Units, Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs), and relevant documents from the strong room to the Counting Hall.

Maintaining the secrecy of the vote is a legal obligation for everyone present in the counting hall. They are required to refrain from sharing any information that could compromise this secrecy.

Throughout the counting process, Counting Agents and others are prohibited from leaving the Counting Centre. Generally, they are allowed to exit only after the results are officially declared. However, Counting Agents not involved in observing the counting of VVPAT slips in VVPAT Counting Booths may be granted permission by the RO to leave the counting hall once the counting of votes in Control Units and Postal Ballots is completed.

Counting of Postal Ballot Papers

As per Rule 54A of the Conduct of Elections Rules 1961, the initial phase involves the counting of postal ballot papers at the table of the Returning Officer (RO). Only postal ballot papers received by the RO before the designated start time for counting are considered valid. At the onset of the counting process, it is the duty of the RO to provide the Observer with the most recent tally of the total number of postal ballot papers received from facilitation centers and via post.

Thirty minutes after the commencement of counting postal ballots, the counting of votes from Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) should begin.

Counting from EVMs will begin at the scheduled time in the following circumstances:

(a) If there are no postal ballot papers in the constituency.

(b) In other Assembly segments of the Parliamentary constituency where postal ballots are not counted.

Although the use of voting machines typically reduces the necessity for a recount due to the accuracy of recorded votes, the provisions concerning recounting outlined in Rule 63 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, remain applicable.

Upon completion of counting and the preparation of the Final Result Sheet in Form 20, the Returning Officer (RO) should announce the total number of votes polled by each candidate as recorded in Form 20. Following this announcement, the RO should pause momentarily. If, during this pause, any candidate or, in their absence, their election agent or any counting agent requests a recount, the RO should inquire about the time required for submitting a written application for recount.

In cases where the margin of victory is narrower than the number of postal ballot papers rejected as invalid during counting, all rejected Postal Ballot papers must be re-verified by the RO before declaring the result. Whenever such re-verification occurs, the entire process must be recorded via video.

Announcement of results

Upon completion of counting and verification, the Returning Officer (RO) proceeds to officially declare the election results. Prior to making the declaration, the RO seeks authorization from the relevant Observer. Once the Result Sheet in Form 20 is completed, signed, and necessary approval is obtained from the Commission along with a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Observer, the candidate with the highest number of valid votes is announced as the winner. The RO loudly announces the result.

How you can track poll results?

The counting trends and results, based on data entered by the Returning Officer/Assistant Returning Officer for Assembly Constituency/Parliamentary Constituency, will be accessible on the ECI Website at https://results.eci.gov.in/ and on the Voter Helpline App, available for both iOS and Android devices.

The "Handbook for Returning Officers and Counting Agents" is accessible on the ECI website through the following links:

The Voter Helpline App can be downloaded from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Users can utilize various filters to view details of winning, leading, or trailing candidates, as well as constituency-wise or state-wise results.

Download links for the Voter Helpline App:

What happens after counting process is over?

After the result declaration, all Control Units have their power packs removed and are stored in their designated carrying cases, which are then sealed with address tags. Furthermore, printed paper slips from Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) are extracted and sealed individually in black envelopes, with one envelope allotted per VVPAT. These envelopes are then stored in trunks, each containing envelopes for one Assembly Constituency (AC) or Assembly Segment (AS), with all relevant election details inscribed on them.

As per Rules 92 and 93 of the Conduct of Elections Rules 1961, the voting machines and printed paper slips, sealed under Rule 57C, are securely held by the District Election Officer. They are not to be opened or inspected by any person or authority unless ordered by a competent court.

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