While RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav claimed on Thursday that rejected postal ballots might have made the difference between victory and defeat for the Mahagathbandhan, Election Commission records show that in only one Assembly constituency in Bihar, Hilsa, the winning margin was less than the number of invalid postal ballots. And, following the RJD candidate’s request, all the postal ballots in this seat, and not just the rejected ones, were recounted and found to be in order, Bihar’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) told The Indian Express.
The RJD’s Atri Muni lost the Hilsa seat to the JD(U) by 12 votes. Of the total 551 postal votes received for this seat, 182 were declared invalid. “The trailing candidate (Muni) asked for a recount of EVM votes as well as the postal ballots. The Returning Officer (RO) rejected the first demand since his counting agents were present at the time of EVM results and seemed satisfied with the process. To satisfy the candidate, the RO permitted recounting of all 551 postal votes, including the invalid ones. The result remained unchanged,” Bihar CEO H R Srinivas said.
Tejashwi asked on Thursday why many postal ballots had been declared invalid, claiming this was done without justification, especially in seats where Mahagathbandhan candidates lost by very narrow margins.
According to the data shared by the Bihar CEO, of the total 243 seats, only 11 — Hilsa, Barbigha, Ramgarh, Matihani, Bhorey, Dehri, Bachhwara, Chakai, Kurhani, Bakhri and Parbatta — saw a winning margin of less than 1,000 votes. Of these seats, four were won by the JD(U), three by the RJD, and one each by the BJP, CPI, LJP and an Independent candidate. In other words, the RJD lost in only two constituencies decided by less than 1,000 votes.
Except for Hilsa, the winning margin in the 10 other seats was less than the rejected postal ballots (see box). While candidates of Ramgarh, Matihani, Bhorey, Dehri and Parbatta seats also sought a recount, their request was turned down by the RO since the victory margin was more than the rejected postal votes. A reasoned order was given by the RO in each case, the CEO said.
On Tejashwi’s allegation of inordinate delay in handing over certificates to the winning candidates, Srinivas said, “At the end of EVM counting, five polling stations are randomly chosen and their VVPAT slips are verified with the EVM count. Counting of VVPAT slips is a tedious job and takes time. That apart, in some cases, the VVPAT slips had to also be tallied when the Control Unit did not display the result and where the polling officer forgot to delete the mock poll votes. So while according to the candidate the EVM rounds are over, the actual result declaration cannot happen till the VVPAT slips are tallied, and data of all polling stations is entered into the EC’s software. These reasons contribute to the time taken in handing over certificates to the winning candidates.”
At a press conference held Thursday evening, the CEO said, “We conformed to all the standards prescribed by us. The elections were free, fair, transparent and we video-graphed the procedure of counting.”
In Delhi, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora also addressed the allegations of irregularities, saying the Bihar CEO had responded to all the charges. He said the EC had held four press conferences on counting day alone to respond to various aspects of the process.
“We do not respond to comments made by political entities. It is their decision, what they said, why they said. The ultimate decision lies with the people,” he said.
Responding to a query on the “slow pace of counting”, Arora said it was due to 33,000 more polling stations due to Covid-19, resulting in 63% additional EVMs.
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