The counting of the votes for the April 6 Assembly election is likely to take over 24 hours due to the latest directive of the Election Commission of India (ECI) to restrict the number of counting tables to one per 250 sq ft and other new procedures for completing the formalities for each round of counting.
The Virudhunagar administration had earlier planned to use 14 tables for each round in each counting hall, measuring 1,900 sq ft to 2,700 sq ft. It had also chosen new venues with bigger rooms to ensure adherence to the COVID-19 norms stipulated by the ECI, Virudhunagar Collector R. Kannan told the candidates of various political parties and their representatives at a meeting held to discuss the counting procedure on Tuesday.
The ECI had stipulated that the size of the counting halls should be at least 2,000 sq ft to ensure distancing.
Following the outbreak of the second wave of COVID-19, the poll panel brought in the 250 sq ft norm for counting tables.
In the case of the Virudhunagar Assembly constituency, the officials had planned to use 14 tables for each round in the counting hall, measuring 2,225 sq ft. With 325 polling booths, it would have taken 24 rounds to complete the process. But with the new ECI norms, only eight tables are allowed in the hall.
When the District Election Officer convened a meeting to get feedback from the candidates on having an additional counting hall for each of the seven Assembly constituencies in the district, there was no consensus among the candidates on the matter.
While the DMK’s representative agreed to have a second counting hall, other candidates opposed the idea, claiming it would create confusion. Some were apprehensive about having two counting halls for the same constituency in different buildings or on different floors.
“We will inform the ECI that no consensus was arrived at with regard to increasing the number of counting halls. We will follow the decision of the ECI on this issue,” Mr. Kannan said.
The official also explained to the candidates and the counting agents that after each round of counting, the general observer would have to verify the numbers in two counting units in each round.
Besides, only after the details are uploaded on the ENCORE (Enabling Communications on Real-time Environment) system of the ECI would each round be officially declared by the Returning Officers.
“Till such time, the next round of counting will not be taken up. Hence, each round will approximately take 40 minutes,” Mr. Kannan said.
An official said it would take at least 27-and-a-half hours to complete the EVM-based counting for 41 rounds in the Virudhunagar Assembly constituency. However, another official expressed the confidence that after the initial rounds, the process could be expedited. “If the ECI increases the number of tables or permits additional halls, the process could be completed much faster,” he added.
After the completion of the final round of counting on the control units, the officials will randomly pick five VVPATs in each Assembly constituency and manually count the printed votes and verify them with the EVM-based count. This process will take more time.