VVPAT verification to stretch counting by one more day

VVPAT verification
Fri, May 10, 2019

Sikkim Elections Counting starts May 23, Final Result on May 24

Who will form the Sikkim government? The answer was supposed to be known on May 23 when the votes of April 11 polling will be counted.
However, the declaration of final results for many Assembly constituencies and Lok Sabha elections of Sikkim would be made only on May 24, as per the present scenario. The one extra day is being taken due to increase number of VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) verifications.
As directed by the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has mandated that five VVPATs are counted for each Assembly segment of the Parliamentary constituency on May 23. Similar process is to be undertaken for each Assembly constituency in States including Sikkim where simultaneous Assembly elections have taken place.
National media has already reported that the Lok Sabha elections results may be delayed a day due to increased number of VVPAT verifications. The final results may be declared to May 24 due to increased number of VVPAT verifications, as per the national reports.
Sikkim went for simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly elections on April 11. The voting percentage was 78.81% for the 32 Assembly seats and lone Lok Sabha seat. The votes along with postal ballots are now secured in the EVMs and VVPATs stored in the strong rooms at each district headquarters.
Now awaited is the counting process on May 23 which starts at 8 am, and as mentioned at the beginning, VVPATs of each Assembly constituency and each Assembly segment of Parliamentary constituency have also to be counted along with the EVMs and postal ballots.
Under such time consuming process, expect the results of many Assembly constituencies to be finalised and announced only the afternoon hours of May 24. The one day delay would be for 12 Assembly constituencies and Parliamentary seat in East Sikkim while the results of North Sikkim (3 Assembly seats) could come by afternoon of May 23 itself. The final results of south and west districts (eight seats each) can be expected in the intervening night of May 23 and May 24.
“The final results of East Sikkim, which has 12 Assembly seats, Lok Sabha seat and Sangha seat will take minimum of 36 hours. We have made all possible arrangements to ensure smooth counting as per the norms but the VVAPT counting will mean that the final results would be available during afternoon or evening time of May 24. As per the rules, the Returning Officer cannot announce the results till the VVAPTs votes are verified,” said East Returning Office Kapil Meena. He is also the Returning Officer for Sangha and Lok Sabha elections.
Counting of votes this time is a three-tier process followed by final cross-checking. The 2014 elections had only EVMs and postal ballots, and going by previous reports, one hour on an average was required to count votes of each constituency that time.
For 2019 elections, a third system, VVPATs have been included to authenticate the votes. Paper slips containing the vote of each voter are stored in these machines. And they also have to be counted this time and as per the ECI, five VVPATs for each Assembly constituency and five for each Assembly segment of Parliamentary constituency.
Counting starts at 8 am. First, the postal ballots are counted and then the EVM votes are collected. Then comes the turn of the VVPATs.
Returning Officer Kapil Meena informs that the five VVPATs, selected randomly, for each constituency, would have to be counted ‘one after another’. Paper slips from each VVPAT would be extracted and then counted physically and segregated in the name of each candidate’s name like the paper ballots of the pre-EVM era.
Counting of votes of each VVPAT takes around one hour.
Counting of five VVAPT ‘one after another’ will take five hours.
This is in addition to the around one hour time taken for counting of EVM votes and postal ballot of the particular Assembly constituency.
And finally comes the cross-checking of votes of EVMs and VVPATs. If there is any discrepancy, the votes of VVPATs will be taken as final, as per the ECI rules.
To reiterate, the Returning Officer can share the trends but cannot declare the final results till the VVAPT votes are verified and cross-checked.
“Since around six hours are being taken for one Assembly constituency, the counting process is stretching to 36 hours and final results are expected to come only on May 24 for East Sikkim Assembly constituencies and Lok Sabha seat. Trends of who is leading from which constituency would be available but final results can be done only after VVPATs process is completed”, said Meena.
The EVMs, postal ballots and VVPATs for East Sikkim are stored at Biraspati Parsai government senior secondary school, Ranipool, about 12 km away from here.
In East Sikkim, there are 60 VVPATs to be counted for the 12 Assembly constituencies and 60 VVPATs to be counted for the 12 Assembly segments of the Parliamentary constituency. The votes for Sangha are also being counted by the East Returning Officer.
The East Election authorities have set up 20 tables for counting of votes for Parliamentary election in two halls and fifteen tables in two halls for Assembly vote counting.
Meena informed that two halls have been installed for counting of Assembly votes. One hall has eight counting teams and the second hall has seven counting teams. All of them will simultaneously start the counting process. For East Sikkim, counting process will start for Singtam-Khamdong constituency in one hall and the other hall will begin with Shyari constituency.
Being used to a one-day wait for election results, the delay of another 24 hours to know who is forming the government or who is the Sikkim MP could generate a new set of problems for the State administration.
Firstly, it is the physical impossibility of the counting personnel, counting agents, Election authorities and security personnel to be on the job for such a long time. Aware of this problem, the East District Election Official has kept two shifts of the counting teams for the first and second day.
Supporters of the political parties would be stationed at the designated places to know about the election results. The authorities are concerned on law and order situation in East Sikkim due to the time consuming process, especially after it gets dark. The atmosphere of restlessness and uncertainty could generate crowd control problems as the time ticks by and results from other districts start coming by, it was shared.
The figure of ‘five VVPATs’ given by the ECI for each Assembly segment could have been exempted for smaller States like Sikkim which has less number of polling stations. Larger States have 250 polling stations on an average per Assembly segment but Sikkim has around 8-10 polling stations per constituency.
Hence, Sikkim is counting more than 50% of VVPATs per constituency while other bigger States are counting only 5% of VVPATs.
It was informed that the Chief Election Officer, Sikkim has been urged to approach the ECI for having a percentage wise VVPATs figure for Sikkim instead of a definite number. Also being explored is the permission to have counting of five VVPATs simultaneously instead of turn by turn. If the five VVPATs for each constituency are allowed to be counted simultaneously in presence of counting agents of the candidates and observer, the whole process can be completed within one hour instead of five hours.
COUNTDOWN: Biraspati Parsai government senior secondary school near Ranipool where the EVMs and VVPATs for East Sikkim are safely stored under constant vigil and security.

Area: 7096 Sq Km
Altitude: 5,840 ft
Population: 6.10 Lakhs
Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 ft. to over 28,509 ft above sea level
Summer: Max- 21°C ; Min – 13°C
Winter: Max -13°C ; Min – 0.48°C
Rainfall: 325 cm per annum
Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi