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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
 N Chandrababu Naidu and Ors. v. Union of India and Anr WP(C). 273/2019 decided on April 8, 2019.
The National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021 is listed for passage in Rajya Sabha today. It was passed by Lok Sabha last week. The Bill creates a regulatory framework for anti-doping rule violations in sports. It was examined by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports, and some of their recommendations have been incorporated in the Bill passed by Lok Sabha.
Doping is the consumption of certain prohibited substances by athletes to enhance performance. Across the world, doping is regulated and monitored by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which is an independent international agency established in 1999. WADA’s primary role is to develop, harmonise, and coordinate anti-doping regulations across all sports and countries. It does so by ensuring proper implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (WADA Code) and its standards. In this blog post, we discuss the need of the framework proposed by the Bill, and give insights from the discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha.
Doping in India
Recently, two Indian athletes failed the doping test and are facing provisional suspension. In the past also, Indian athletes have been found in violation of anti-doping rules. In 2019, according to WADA, most of the doping rule violations were committed by athletes from Russia (19%), followed by Italy (18%), and India (17%). Most of the doping rule violations were committed in bodybuilding (22%), followed by athletics (18%), cycling (14%), and weightlifting (13%). In order to curb doping in sports, WADA requires all countries to have a framework regulating anti-doping activities managed by their respective National Anti-Doping Organisations.
Currently, doping in India is regulated by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA), which was established in 2009 as an autonomous body under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. One issue with the existing framework is that the anti-doping rules are not backed by a legislation and are getting challenged in courts. Further, NADA is imposing sanctions on athletes without a statutory backing. Taking into account such instances, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2021) had recommended that the Department of Sports bring in an anti-doping legislation. Other countries such as the USA, UK, Germany, and Japan have enacted legislations to regulate anti-doping activities.
Framework proposed by the National Anti-Doping Bill, 2021
The Bill seeks to constitute NADA as a statutory body headed by a Director General appointed by the central government. Functions of the Agency include planning, implementing and monitoring anti-doping activities, and investigating anti-doping rule violations. A National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel will be set up for determining consequences of anti-doping rule violations. This panel will consist of legal experts, medical practitioners, and retired athletes. Further, the Board will constitute an Appeal Panel to hear appeals against decisions of the Disciplinary Panel. Athletes found in violation of anti-doping rules may be subject to: (i) disqualification of results including forfeiture of medals, points, and prizes, (ii) ineligibility to participate in a competition or event for a prescribed period, (iii) financial sanctions, and (iv) other consequences as may be prescribed. Consequences for team sports will be specified by regulations.
Initially, the Bill did not have provisions for protected athletes but after the Standing Committee’s recommendation, provisions for such athletes have been included in the Bill. Protected persons will be specified by the central government. As per the WADA Code, a protected person is someone: (i) below the age of 16, or (ii) below the age of 18 and has not participated in any international competition in an open category, or (iii) lacks legal capacity as per their country’s legal framework
Issues and discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha
During the discussion on the Bill, members highlighted several issues. We discuss these below-
Independence of NADA
One of the issues highlighted was the independence of the Director General of NADA. WADA requires National Doping Organisations to be independent in their functioning as they may experience external pressure from their governments and national sports bodies which could compromise their decisions. First, under the Bill, the qualifications of the Director General are not specified and are left to be notified through Rules. Second, the central government may remove the Director General from the office on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity or “such other ground”. Leaving these provisions to the discretion of the central government may affect the independence of NADA.
Privacy of athletes
NADA will have the power to collect certain personal data of athletes such as: (a) sex or gender, (ii) medical history, and (iii) whereabout information of athletes (for out of competition testing and collection of samples). MPs expressed concerns about maintaining the privacy of athletes. The Union Sports Minister in his response, assured the House that all international privacy standards will be followed during collection and sharing of data. Data will be shared with only relevant authorities.
Under the Bill, NADA will collect and use personal data of athletes in accordance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information. It is one of the eight ‘mandatory’ standards of the World Anti-Doping Code. One of the amendments moved by the Union Sports Minister removed the provision relating to compliance with the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information.
Establishing more testing laboratories across states
Currently India has one National Dope Testing Laboratory (NDTL). MPs raised the demand to establish testing laboratories across states to increase testing capacity. The Minister responded by saying that if required in the future, the government will establish more testing laboratories across states. Further, in order to increase testing capacity, private labs may also be set up. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) also emphasised the need to open more dope testing laboratories, preferably one in each state, to cater to the need of the country and become a leader in the South East Asia region in the areas of anti-doping science and education.
In August, 2019 a six-month suspension was imposed on NDTL for not complying with International Standard for Laboratories (ISL) by WADA. The suspension was extended for another six months in July, 2020 due to non-conformity with ISL. The second suspension was to remain in effect until the Laboratory complies with ISL. However, the suspension was extended for another six months in January, 2021 as COVID-19 impacted WADA’s ability to conduct an on-site assessment of the Laboratory. In December, 2021 WADA reinstated the accreditation of NDTL.
Several athletes in India are not aware about the anti-doping rules and the prohibited substances. Due to lack of awareness, they end up consuming prohibited substances through supplements. MPs highlighted the need to conduct more awareness campaigns around anti-doping. The Minister informed the House that in the past one year, NADA has conducted about 100 hybrid workshops relating to awareness on anti-doping. The Bill will enable NADA to conduct more awareness campaigns and research in anti-doping. Further, the central government is working with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to test dietary supplements consumed by athletes.
While examining the Bill, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Sports (2022) recommended several measures to improve and strengthen the antidoping ecosystem in the country. These measures include: (i) enforcing regulatory action towards labelling and use of ‘dope-free’ certified supplements, and (ii) mandating ‘dope-free’ certification by independent bodies for supplements consumed by athletes.