Counting of votes: Candidates can appoint up to 15 counting agents who will keep watch on the entire counting process on their behalf.
Lok Sabha Election Result: India’s mammoth election exercise spread over nearly five weeks has been completed this Sunday with over 576 million of total 900 million eligible voters exercising their democratic right. The counting of votes will take place on Thursday and most likely the result will be declared by late night. Declaration of results may be delayed as unlike the previous elections, this time the Election Commission will also match printed paper slips at select polling stations before declaring the final results.
Earlier election commission had planned for matching of printed papers slips from one polling station in each assembly constituencies falling in every Lok Sabha seat. However, following a petition jointly filed by 21 opposition parties, the Supreme Court ordered the commission to tally printed paper slips from 5 polling stations in each assembly constituency falling in every Lok Sabha seat.
Use of Electronic Voting Machines instead of paper ballot has become a point of intense debate and criticism in the country. Opposition parties have raised questions about the integrity of EVMs, alleging that the machines can be manipulated or tampered with by the ruling administration to its advantage.
In addition to ensuring the technical integrity of the machines, the election commission has devised elaborate processes to ensure a free an fair election and counting of votes. It has developed special randomization softwares to assign EVMs and duty to election officials to different polling stations and constituencies to thwart any potential mischief.
It’s not the man and machine alone, the poll panel also lays emphasis on involving political parties, candidates, their agents at every stage before the beginning of election process till the day of counting. Machines are opened and packed in presence of representatives of political parties before they are transported to different constituencies.
Appointment of Counting Agents
Election Commission asks political parties and candidates to appoint 15 counting agents per counting centre who will witness the entire process of counting, cross check and verify results on their behalf.
Usually, there are 15 counting tables at a counting centre, therefore 15 counting agents can be appointed by each candidate, one each for every counting table. Returning officers can increase the number of counting tables and agents in case it is required.
There is a well laid out process and criteria for appointment of counting agents by a candidate or his election agent. And counting agents need to accept their appointments and then they will be issued identity cards for their entry into counting centres.
Under the law, the returning officer informs candidates and their agents one week in advance about the date, place and time of counting and also the number of tables to be set up so that candidates can appoint more agents in case it is needed.
In case of assembly elections, counting is usually done at one place. In case of Lok Sabha elections, counting may be done at different places.
Role of Counting agents
Returning officer assigns a specific serial number to each counting agent and the table number where he will watch the entire process of counting. But these agents are not allowed to roam around throughout the entire counting centres and they are not allowed to leave the counting centres before the completion of counting process.
Election Commission erects a barricade or wire mesh so that these counting agents cannot reach the EVMs, they can just watch the process and they are expected to maintain the secrecy of counting process till the time of declaration of results.
In the first stage, counting of postal votes is done. And after ascertaining the valid votes and the rejected votes, counting agents can countersign the the packets of such postal ballots once they are sealed following the counting.
Counting agents can check seals on EVMs
Counting agents are allowed to verify the paper strip seals before EVMs are opened at the counting centres. They can verify whether paper strip seals properly affixed on the machine or not before it was opened at the counting center to ensure it was not tampered with.
Counting agents are also allowed to check whether compulsory paper seal was affixed on the ‘Result Section’ of the machine or not and they can also match the serial numbers of machines to satisfy them the machines have not been replaced or changed after registration of votes.
After the machines are opened, the Result button will be pressed and counting agents will be allowed to note down the results displayed on the machine before the results are entered into the result sheets.
Election Commission engages political parties, candidates and their agents at every stage and every stage is video-graphed to ensure the integrity of the entire process of voting and counting.