It took over 24 hours for the Election Commission of India to finally declare Madhya Pradesh election results that ended in a photofinish. While the seesaw battle between the Congress and the BJP in MP had all makings of a potboiler, the excruciating wait of hours before getting the final tally left many wondering about the cause behind the delay. The results of five assembly elections that were announced on Tuesday saw a relatively slow counting of votes. The final results of Madhya Pradesh were only declared on Wednesday morning post 8 am, a full day after the counting process began.
Till midnight, the Election Commission had only announced the results of 170 out of 230 seats in Madhya Pradesh, despite starting early in the morning. The result of Mizoram polls was declared by the evening, while Telangana, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh later Tuesday night.
What caused the delay?
The Indian Express reports that it was mainly on account of four reasons – mandatory tallying of EVM count with VVPAT slips, hike in the number of votes cast through postal ballots, close margin between BJP and Congress in Madhya Pradesh and, finally to prevent a repeat of what happened in Nagaland and save EC from embarrassment. In the Nagaland elections held earlier this year, the EC was forced to reverse the result of the Tanning seat, a day after the declaration of the result due to an error on their part.
The postal ballot system that was introduced a year back saw an increase in the votes cast by the service voters through the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) – through which the ballots were cast on time.
Through the ETPB system, the ballot is sent electronically to service voters, or voters working for the armed forces, who are posted outside the assembly where they are registered. The electronic ballot is then printed and sent to the respective Returning Officer through snail mail.
A senior EC official informed IE that the ETPBS has paved way for an increase in the number of postal ballots cast this year, which takes up more time to be counted. “So, the final round of EVM counting could not be started without counting the postal ballots, which took up more time,” the official added.
In 2017, the EC started mandatory tallying of EVM with VVPAT slips in any one polling station of every assembly seat in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. The official informed IE, “This whole process of tallying the two takes up an hour in any one polling station, which is another reason for the delay in the announcement.”
Another EC official pointed out that in the past, the winning margins between political parties were larger, and hence, the political parties or the news channels would declare the results even before EC finished counting. “In Madhya Pradesh, since the margin was so small, everyone had to wait before getting started with any celebration,” he added.
Moreover, the returning officers were told to be extra cautious this time, because of the Nagaland incident where the results had to be turned a day after. NR Zeling of Naga People’s Front (NPF) was as the winner of the Tenning constituency initially due to some tabulation error, instead of Namri Nchang of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). “The commission exercised its power under article 324 to reverse the result there. But we did not want to repeat that all over again, so the Returning Officers were instructed to be extra cautious and prioritise accuracy,” the official said.