Behind EC delay: new process and extra cautionhttps://indianexpress.com/elections/behind-ec-delay-new-process-and-extra-caution-5489310/

Behind EC delay: new process and extra caution

Until midnight Tuesday, the Election Commission, on its official website, had announced results for 170 of 230 seats in Madhya Pradesh, of which Congress had won 84 and BJP 82.

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The delay, according to EC sources, was primarily due to few factors including increase in votes cast through postal ballot, mandatory tallying of EVM count with VVPAT slips, among others.

The relatively slow counting of votes and the announcement of results Tuesday was because of a combination of procedural reasons.

Until midnight Tuesday, the Election Commission, on its official website, had announced results for 170 of 230 seats in Madhya Pradesh, of which Congress had won 84 and BJP 82. In Chhattisgarh, the election was called in case of 58 seats out of 90. Counting, by this time, had been wound up for Telangana, Rajasthan and Mizoram.

The delay, according to EC sources, was primarily due to four factors: increase in votes cast through postal ballot, mandatory tallying of EVM count with VVPAT slips, wafer-thin margins in Madhya Pradesh and a cautious approach adopted to avoid the embarrassment suffered during Nagaland polls this year.

Sources said the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System, which was introduced a year ago, enabled the service voter to send her ballot on time and, hence, led to an increase in number of postal ballots received.

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Under ETPBS, the ballot is sent electronically one way to a service voter (read voters belonging to the armed forces), who is posted outside the Assembly seat where she is registered. Once printed, the ballot, with its cast vote, is sent back to the respective Returning Officer of the constituency through snail mail. Earlier postal ballots were sent and received by snail mail.

“This (ETPBS) has resulted in an increase in postal ballots received. It will obviously take longer for all such votes to be counted. It’s also important to point out that the penultimate round of EVM counting in a seat cannot begin unless all postal ballots of that seat have been counted,” said a senior EC official.

In 2017, with the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections, the EC introduced compulsory tallying of EVM count in any one polling station in every assembly seat. “This takes place after all rounds of EVM counting are over. The matching of electronic votes with VVPAT slips in any one polling station will take an hour. Hence, the delay in announcement of results,” the official added.

While the introduction of VVPAT tallying is a year old, this is the first time that EVM votes are being collectively tallied on such a scale — 679 polling stations.

“In the past, because the winning margins were bigger, the political parties and newschannels would call elections even before EC could wind up counting. In case of Madhya Pradesh because the margins are so small, nobody has a choice but to put off celebrations until results are officially declared,” an official said.

Lastly, the EC, sources said, instructed all its Returning Officers to be extra cautious in announcing results of each round of counting. This has been done after the mistake made in the Nagaland Assembly elections earlier this year which forced EC to reverse the results of the Tenning seat a day after it was announced.

The change, which was attributed to a tabulation error made by the Returning Officer, led to the declaration of N.R. Zeliang of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) as the winner of the Tenning constituency instead of Namri Nchang of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP).

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“The Commission at that time has to exercise its extraordinary power under Article 324 of the Constitution to reverse the result. We didn’t want a repeat of that. All ROs were strictly instructed to prioritise accuracy over speed,” said the EC official.