Election Commission

How votes are counted in Indian elections?

The counting of votes for General Election 2019, which concluded on Sunday, will begin tomorrow, i.e., 23rd May at 8 AM.  The election was conducted in 7 phases for 543 constituencies of Lok Sabha.  The Election Commission of India (ECI) uses Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) to conduct elections. Since 2000, ECI has conducted 113 assembly elections and three general elections using EVMs.[1]  Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system was added to EVMs in 2013 to increase transparency and improve voter confidence in the system.  The VVPAT system generates a printed paper slip bearing the name and election symbol of the candidate.  On April 8, 2019, Supreme Court instructed the ECI that printed VVPAT slips from randomly selected five polling stations in each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency should be matched with EVMs.[2]  In this blog, we explain the election counting process in India.

Who is responsible for counting the votes?

The Returning Officer (RO) is responsible for conducting elections in a constituency, which also includes counting of votes.[3] The RO is an officer of the government or a local authority nominated by the ECI for each constituency in consultation with the state government.[4]

Where does the counting take place?

The RO decides the place where the votes will be counted for the parliamentary constituency.  The date and time of counting is fixed by the ECI.  Ideally counting of votes for a constituency should be done at one place, preferably at the Headquarter of the RO in that constituency.  It should be performed under the direct supervision of the RO.  However, each Parliamentary Constituency has multiple assembly segments.  In this situation, counting can take place at different locations for various assembly segments under the direct supervision of an Assistant Returning Officer (ARO).

Layout of the Counting Hall

Page 431, Handbook for Returning Officer Document 23 Edition 1, Election Commission of India

Counting of votes for each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency is performed in a single hall.  In each round of counting, votes from 14 EVMs are counted.  In case of simultaneous parliamentary and assembly elections, such as Odisha, the first seven tables are used for counting votes for assembly elections, and the rest for parliamentary elections.

In constituencies with a large number of candidates, it may not be possible to count votes for all candidates in a single hall without overcrowding it.  In such a situation, the number of counting halls or tables can be increased with the prior permission of the ECI.  A hall can also be used for counting votes of another assembly segment after the results of the first segment are declared.  However, counting may be done for only one assembly segment in a hall at any point of time.

What is the counting process?

Counting is performed by counting supervisors appointed by the RO.  Counting staff is appointed through a three stage randomisation process to ensure impartiality.  Candidates along with their counting agents and election agents are also present in the counting hall.

Counting of votes begins with Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballots (ETPB) and Postal Ballots (PB). These votes are counted under the direct supervision of the RO. Counting of EVMs can start 30 minutes after the commencement of PB counting, even if all PBs have not been counted.  At the end of each round of counting, the results from 14 EVMs are declared.

What is the process for counting VVPAT slips?

The ECI prescribes the process for randomly selecting one EVM for each assembly segment of a parliamentary constituency for VVPAT matching.  The verification of VVPAT paper slips is conducted inside a secured VVPAT Counting Booth in the counting hall with access to authorised personnel only.  Any counting table in the hall can be converted into VVPAT Counting Booth after completing EVM vote counting.  Parliamentary constituencies generally have between five and ten assembly segments.

The Supreme Court has decided that VVPAT slips of five randomly selected polling stations for each assembly segment shall be matched with the result shown in the respective EVMs.  This implies that VVPAT paper slips need to be matched for about 25-50 machines for each parliamentary constituency.  This process requires personal supervision of RO/ARO.  The ECI has decided that the counting of five VVPATs will be done sequentially.[5]  The RO can declare the final result for the constituency after the VVPAT matching process has been completed.

What happens if there is a discrepancy between the VVPAT count and the EVM results?

In such a case, the printed paper slips count is taken as final. The ECI has not clarified whether there would be any further action (such as counting of all VVPATs in a constituency or assembly segment) if there is a discrepancy in the counts of one of the five VVPATs.

[1] https://www.eci.gov.in/files/file/8756-status-paper-on-evm-edition-3/.

[2] N Chandrababu Naidu and Ors. v. Union of India and Anr WP(C). 273/2019 decided on April 8, 2019.

[3] https://www.eci.gov.in/files/file/9400-hand-book-for-returning-officer-february-2019/.

[4] https://www.eci.gov.in/faqs/elections/election-machinery/faqs-election-machinery-r1/.

[5] https://www.eci.gov.in/files/file/10197-mandatory-verification-of-vvpat-paper-slips-regarding/.

Analysis of the contesting candidates in General Election 2019

The nominations for all phases of the General Election have been submitted.  We examine highlights from data on candidates who are participating in the ongoing elections.  There are 8,039 candidates contesting for 542 Parliamentary constituency seats.
 

On average, 14.8 candidates are contesting per constituency across the country.  Among all the states, Telangana has the highest average number of candidates contesting.  This is primarily due to 185 contestants from Nizamabad.  Excluding Nizamabad, the state’s average number of contestants would be 16.1.  

 

The Election Commission of India recognises parties as either national or state parties based on their performance in previous elections.  Delhi and Haryana have a high number of candidates contesting from parties that have not been recognised as either national or state parties.

After Telangana, Tamil Nadu has the highest average of independent candidates contesting in this election.  On average, of the candidates in each constituency in Tamil Nadu, two-thirds are contesting as independent candidates.  

 

After Nizamabad, the second highest number of candidate representation is seen in Belgaum, Karnataka.  The five constituencies that have the highest candidate representation are from the southern states of Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.    

 

The Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress are contesting 435 and 420 seats respectively.  In 373 seats they are in competition with each other.  BSP has the third highest number of candidates contesting in this election.

The seven national parties together fielded 2.69 candidates per constituency.  Among the largest five states, West Bengal has the highest representation of candidates from national parties, at 4.6.  In that state, candidates from five national parties are contesting.

Recognised state parties, together, fielded 1.53 candidates per constituency.  Bihar (6 state parties) and Tamil Nadu (8 state parties) see a high representation of candidates from state parties, at 1.2 and 1.3 respectively.

Largest states are ones with more than 30 Parliamentary constituency seats: Uttar Pradesh (80), Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42), Bihar (40), and Tamil Nadu (39).  These states together have 249 seats i.e., 46% of Lok Sabha.

For these five states, the number of seats being contested by national and state parties is shown in the figures below.  

This analysis is based on the candidate list available on the Election Commission website (eci.gov.in) on May 8, 2019.

Model Code of Conduct and the 2014 General Elections

Recently, the Election Commission has recommended postponing certain policy decisions of the government related to natural gas pricing, and notifying ecologically sensitive areas in the Western Ghats, by invoking the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).  It has also censured several candidates for violating the MCC.  In light of these recent events, we outline the key features of the MCC below. What is the Model Code of Conduct and who does it apply to? The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections, to ensure free and fair elections. This is in keeping with Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives the Election Commission the power to supervise elections to the Parliament and state legislatures. The MCC is operational from the date that the election schedule is announced till the date that results are announced.  Thus, for the general elections this year, the MCC came into force on March 5, 2014, when the election schedule was announced, and will operate till May 16, 2014, when the final results will be announced. How has the Model Code of Conduct evolved over time? According to the Press Information Bureau, a form of the MCC was first introduced in the state assembly elections in Kerala in 1960.  It was a set of instructions to political parties regarding election meetings, speeches, slogans, etc. In the 1962 general elections to the Lok Sabha, the MCC was circulated to recognised parties, and state governments sought feedback from the parties.  The MCC was largely followed by all parties in the 1962 elections and continued to be followed in subsequent general elections. In 1979, the Election Commission added a section to regulate the ‘party in power’ and prevent it from gaining an unfair advantage at the time of elections.  In 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to include guidelines regarding election manifestos, which it has included in the MCC for the 2014 general elections. What are the key provisions of the Model Code of Conduct? The MCC contains eight provisions dealing with general conduct, meetings, processions, polling day, polling booths, observers, party in power, and election manifestos.  Major provisions of the MCC are outlined below.

  • General Conduct:  Criticism of political parties must be limited to their policies and programmes, past record and work.  Activities such as:  (a) using caste and communal feelings to secure votes,  (b) criticising candidates on the basis of unverified reports,  (c) bribing or intimidation of voters, and (d) organising demonstrations or picketing outside houses of persons to protest against their opinions, are prohibited.
  • Meetings:  Parties must inform the local police authorities of the venue and time of any meeting in time to enable the police to make adequate security arrangements.
  • Processions:  If two or more candidates plan processions along the same route, organisers must establish contact in advance to ensure that the processions do not clash.  Carrying and burning effigies representing members of other political parties is not allowed.
  • Polling day:  All authorised party workers at polling booths should be given identity badges.  These should not contain the party name, symbol or name of the candidate.
  • Polling booths:  Only voters, and those with a valid pass from the Election Commission, will be allowed to enter polling booths.
  • Observers:  The Election Commission will appoint observers to whom any candidates may report problems regarding the conduct of the election.
  • Party in power:  The MCC incorporated certain restrictions in 1979, regulating the conduct of the party in power.  Ministers must not combine official visits with election work or use official machinery for the same.  The party must avoid advertising at the cost of the public exchequer or using official mass media for publicity on achievements to improve chances of victory in the elections.  Ministers and other authorities must not announce any financial grants, or promise any construction of roads, provision of drinking water, etc.   Other parties must be allowed to use public spaces and rest houses and these must not be monopolised by the party in power.
  • Election manifestos:  Added in 2013, these guidelines prohibit parties from making promises that exert an undue influence on voters, and suggest that manifestos also indicate the means to achieve promises.

Is the Model Code of Conduct legally binding? The MCC is not enforceable by law.  However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through invoking corresponding provisions in other statutes such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and Representation of the People Act, 1951. The Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding; stating that elections must be completed within a relatively short time (close to 45 days),  and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law. On the other hand, in 2013, the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice, recommended making the MCC legally binding.  In a report on electoral reforms, the Standing Committee observed that most provisions of the MCC are already enforceable through corresponding provisions in other statutes, mentioned above.  It recommended that the MCC be made a part of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Paid News in the spotlight

The issue of paid news has been debated for a long time, most recently during the 2012 Gujarat assembly elections, the Jindal Steel-Zee News dispute and disqualification of a sitting UP MLA by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in October 2011.  The Standing Committee on Information Technology recently submitted its report on the “Issues Related to Paid News”.  The report discusses the definition of paid news, reasons for its proliferation, existing mechanisms to address the problem and recommendations to control it. Need for comprehensive definition of paid news The Press Council of India (PCI) defines paid news as any news or analysis appearing in print or electronic media for consideration in cash or kind.  The Committee acknowledged challenges in defining and establishing incidence of paid news, citing new manifestations like advertisements disguised as news, denial of coverage to select electoral candidates, private deals between media houses and corporates and the rise in paid content.  Hence, it asked the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MoIB) to formulate a comprehensive legal definition of ‘paid news’ and suggest measures for usage of ‘circumstantial evidence’ in establishing incidence of  paid news. Reasons for rise in incidence of paid news The Committee identified corporatisation of media, desegregation of ownership and editorial roles, decline in autonomy of editors/journalists and poor wage levels of journalists as key reasons for the rise in incidence of paid news.  It urged the MoIB to ensure periodic review of the editor/journalist autonomy and wage conditions.  It also recommended mandatory disclosure of ‘private treaties’ and details of advertising revenue by the media houses. Need for empowered regulators and stricter punitive provisions The Committee observed that statutory regulators like the PCI and Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) lack adequate punitive powers while self-regulatory industry bodies like the News Broadcasting Standards Authority have even failed to take cognisance of the problem.  The PCI and self-regulatory bodies are also plagued by conflict of interest since a majority of their members are media-owners. The Committee recommended the establishment of either a single regulatory body for both print and electronic media or setting-up a statutory body for the electronic media on the lines of the PCI. Such regulator(s) should have the power to take strong action against offenders and should not include media owners as members. It highlighted the need for stricter punitive provisions to control paid news and sought further empowerment of the ECI to deal with cases of paid news during elections. Committee critical of government’s inaction The Committee censured the MoIB for its failure to establish a strong mechanism to check the spread of paid news.  It criticised the government for dithering on important policy initiatives, citing the lack of action on various recommendations of the PCI and ECI.  Previously, the PCI had sought amendments to make its directions binding on the government authorities and to bring the electronic media under its purview.  Similarly, the ECI recommended inclusion of indulgence by an electoral candidate in paid news as a corrupt practice and publication of such paid news as an electoral offence.  The Committee also expressed concern that the MoIB and self-regulatory bodies have not conducted any study to evaluate the mechanism adopted by other countries to tackle the problem of paid news. For a PRS summary of the Standing Committee Report, see here.