For a country like India where each individual constituency can have lakhs of voters, counting votes is a complex process that requires both pace and precision. As Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh wait for the results of their Assembly elections, we take a look at who are the individuals present in the counting rooms and the roles they play in the process. Follow Live Updates: Gujarat Assembly Election Results | Himachal Pradesh Assembly Election Results | Assembly Elections Results Analysis
Ideally, all votes should be counted in one location in the constituency. But during General Elections, when seats are larger with multiple Assembly constituencies, many counting centres can be appointed, depending on the number of votes that need to be counted. The location(s) for counting votes is decided by the Returning Officer (RO), with multiple centres in assembly segments being under the supervision of the Assistant Returning Officers (ARO).
In counting centres, ideally all votes are counted in one big hall having multiple tables. However, if the RO feels there is a risk of overcrowding, more rooms may be opened up after permission from the Election Commission (EC). Counting centres are housed in walled accommodation with strict security requirements. Government school and college buildings are commonly used.
The Returning Officer
The RO is appointed for each constituency by the Election Commission. During the duration of the election, the RO is the highest authority in the constituency having a wide range of powers in order to peacefully and impartially conduct elections. With respect to counting of votes, the RO has the following duties:
to designate the counting centres and get them approved by the Commission well in advance;
to send notice to the candidates about the place, date and time of counting of votes;
to appoint and train counting staff;
to count the votes and declare the result.
ROs themselves do not count all votes but verify the counting at multiple stages and announce the results. They are the final authority in the matter of vote counting in an election. To assist the RO, the EC also appoints Assistant Returning Officers (AROs) to assist the RO in carrying out all the duties. In case of multiple counting centres in a a constituency, each centre will be under the supervision of one ARO. The number of AROs appointed can vary, depending on the requirements of the constituency.
Generally, the District Magistrate is the ex-officio RO in Lok Sabha elections while the Sub-Divisional Magistrate is the RO in state assembly elections.
Counting Supervisors and Assistants
A counting room will have multiple counting tables with each counting a set number of postal ballots/EVMs on a round to round basis. On each table, there is a counting supervisor and up to two assistants who do the actual counting. They should be gazetted officers and are appointed by the RO. They receive specific training pertaining to the tasks they are expected to undertake. For instance, for those counting postal ballots, the training is different from that received for counting EVM votes.
The Election Commission appoints observers at each counting room, who are supposed to record the proceedings and file a report. They are generally employees of the Government of India, and are tasked with the duty to oversee overall functioning of the election apparatus. Micro-observers are appointed for each table where votes are being counted. Observers are also supposed to randomly verify votes counted for some EVMs in each round of counting. Overall, they are the eyes and ears of the Election Commision on the ground and are there to ensure that all procedures are being followed.
Candidates and Counting Agents
Candidates who were on the ballot are also allowed in the counting room along with their representatives. All parties and candidates send counting agents in order to ensure that votes are counted fairly and according to procedure, and lodge complaints, if any. These counting agents are bound by a certain code prescribed in the Handbook for Counting Agents and must themselves follow the EC’s instructions in order to not disrupt the counting process.
While armed forces are typically not supposed to enter counting rooms, they are in charge of maintaining multiple layers of security, both at the counting room as well as the path through which EVMs are brought to the counting rooms from their strong rooms (where they are stored after polling). The security forces, including CRPF and local police, are under the authority of the RO of the constituency.