This is one pink slip all candidates in Madhya Pradesh would like in their name. The state voted November 25 but postal ballots,printed in pink,are still getting delivered.
Over 78,000 postal ballots are yet to reach the respective returning officers with a week to go for counting on December 8. An Election Commission official told The Indian Express that by late Saturday,out of 3,12,435 voters who had been issued postal ballots,2,34,311 had sent in their ballot papers.
Rules allow postal ballots to be delivered to the respective returning officer up to an hour before counting begins at 8 am. Its the time lag of 13 days between polling and counting that is giving candidates sleepless nights,especially those belonging to the opposition. They want the postal ballots counted before the EVMs are opened.
In the past,few candidates used to bother about postal ballots because the number in each constituency was not significant. Then in 2008,postal ballots played a crucial role in Dhar and Damoh constituencies where the margin of victory was wafer-thin. In Dhar,it was just one vote that gave the candidate victory though courts later declared the election void.
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This year,the number of voters entitled to use the postal ballot facility has gone up nearly twofold to 3.60 lakh. They include government employees on poll duty,service voters (central armed forces,state armed forces deployed outside the state and employees posted abroad),and drivers,cleaners and helpers. Employees on poll duty were asked to fill up form 12 on the first day of their training,and the process of printing the pink ballots began an hour after withdrawal of nominations closed on November 11.
Bhupendra Gupta of the Congress said the postal ballots should be counted before the EVMs are unlocked and thus leave no scope for manipulation in the event of a small number of votes separating a winner from a loser. He said the average number of postal ballots per constituency is more than 1,000,large enough to tilt the balance when the race is close. He alleged that his party lost four or five seats in 2008 following disputes over postal ballots.
Deepak Vijayvargiya of the BJP said postal ballots had been in use for a long time and dismissed the apprehensions expressed by the opposition as a sign of conceding defeat in advance.
Meanwhile,the Congress is worried is also worried about the safety of EVMs,kept in strong rooms in every district headquarters. Congress MLA and candidate Panchilal Medha,who is camping outside the strong room in Dhar,is not alone. At several places across the state,the party has deployed activists to take turns at guarding strong rooms. Leader of the opposition Ajay Singh,contesting from Churhat,said he has asked supporters to guard the strong room in six-hour shifts.
The Congress says poll officials could still be influenced by the ruling party to tamper with the EVMs. A Congress activist was taken into custody for peeping into strong rooms.
3.60 lakh government employees
on poll duty
3.12 lakh issued postal ballots
2.34 lakh postal ballots sent in