Counting of postal ballots will commence first, says CEC following the demand of Opposition alliance

A delegation of leaders from the INDIA bloc, including the Congress's Abhishek Singhvi, met the full bench of the EC.

BySouth First Desk

Published Jun 04, 2024 | 6:58 AMUpdatedJun 04, 2024 | 6:58 AM

CEC Rajiv Kumar.

Citing the Conduct of Election Rules, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on Monday, 3 June, said the counting of postal ballots will start first across all counting centres and asserted that there was “no doubt about it”.

Responding to questions at a press conference in New Delhi, he said after half-an-hour of the start of the postal ballot count, the counting of votes recorded in the electronic voting machines will commence.

A delegation of leaders from the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), including the Congress’s Abhishek Singhvi, met the full bench of the EC on Sunday.

Briefing the media after the meeting, Singhvi had said this was the third time that a delegation of Opposition leaders visited the poll panel during the general election and, among other things, urged the officials to ensure that the postal ballots are counted and their results declared before the results of the electronic voting machines (EVMs) are announced.

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Cites rules of counting

“Rules clearly state (Rule 54A) that postal ballot count will start first. In all centres in the country, it will start first, no doubt about it. After half an hour we start the EVM count. So, there are three countings which are happening simultaneously — it happened in the 2019 elections, and it happened in all the Assembly polls held thereafter. It happened yesterday also in the case of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim assembly (vote count). We can’t change anything mid-course. Why can’t we change, because it is compliant with the rules,” he said.

He said the postal ballot count followed by the EVM count and finally the marching of VVPT slips with EVM results will continue.

In majority of the booths, the number of postal ballot is less. It will automatically end first, he pointed out.

Leaders from the INDIA opposition bloc had urged the EC on Sunday to ensure that on June 4, the postal ballots are counted and their results declared before the outcome of the EVMs is announced, and said the poll panel should issue clear guidelines on the counting process and ensure that those are implemented.

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‘Promoting the spirit of democracy’

In a statement on Monday, Singhvi said, “As informed, I am happy and proud to have spoken on behalf of the multi-party delegation which went yesterday (Sunday) to the Election Commission of India. We are also grateful to the ECI for giving us time promptly on a Sunday and for hearing us patiently.”

“What one is happiest about the most is that a very glaring issue of democracy, namely counting postal ballots first, has been graciously and promptly agreed to by the ECI, one or two days before the counting of votes and shall be implemented tomorrow (Tuesday),” the senior Congress leader said.

This is the participatory manner of promoting the spirit of democracy in a non-adversarial fashion, which works best in the long term, he asserted.

In a letter to the EC, the INDIA bloc leaders had said the number of postal ballots has gone up significantly in this Lok Sabha election as senior citizens (aged 85 years and above) and differently-abled persons were allowed to cast their votes through this process.

They quoted various rules and guidelines of the EC, including provisions of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 and Handbook for Returning Officer and Counting Agents (August 2023), that said the counting of postal ballots shall be done first.

Since 2019, VVPAT (paper-trail machine) slips from five randomly selected polling stations per Assembly constituency (or segment in cases of Lok Sabha seats) are matched with the EVM count for greater transparency.

(With PTI inputs)