Everything you need to know about vote counting day, and more

The finish line is within reach, and come May 23 we will learn the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha general election.

May 19 marked the final round of voting in the seven-phase poll, and with it the Model Code of Conduct has been lifted. But the Election Commission’s duty is far from done.

Counting of votes is the most critical and tedious process of the election, and it is scheduled for tomorrow (May 23) and we all know that the slightest discrepancy therein could be fatal for the outcome of public mandate.

The EC has already been receiving flak for the manner in which EVMs are being transported and secured in strong rooms. At the same time, an overwhelming majority of opinion polls are predicting a second term for the Narendra Modi’s government and Amit Shah’s BJP at the centre. Nonetheless, all eyes are now on the ECI which will declare who will form the next government on May 23.

Here’s your handy guide for all the election drama that has led us finally to the D-Day, what’s in store for the country’s future, and more topically, poll counting do’s and don’ts.

When were the polls held?

Between April 11 and May 19, over 900 million registered voters are expected to have participated in the world’s largest democratic exercise.

Across seven phases, Indians cast their votes across 10 lakh booths in 543 seats spread over 33 lakh sq km, in one of the most bitterly contested national election in the country’s history.

When are the results?

With exit polls hinting a return of the NDA government, everyone now eagerly awaits the official outcome which will be revealed on Thursday, May 23, after a tedious process of counting ballots.

Opposition parties have appealed to the EC to count all 5 VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) machines first, after the Supreme Court dismissed a request seeking 100% matching of VVPAT slips with the Voting Machines during counting.

Auditing the paper trail through VVPAT machines for 50% of the EVMs is expected to delay the announcement of results this time, by 5-9 days according to an affidavit submitted by the EC in March. According to the EC, it takes around 1 hour to count slips for one polling station.

There are 10.35 lakh polling stations all over the country with an average of 250 per constituency, with certain constituencies having as many as 400 polling stations. 

Who will count and announce the results?

Staff appointed by the EC count the votes from each EVM. Counting happens in the presence of the Returning Officer of the constituency, along with candidates and their agents. Each candidate can appoint up to 16 counting agents from their party at each counting centre.

The RO declares the result when they are certain that the counting has adhered to all instructions and yielded clear results. There are additional observers appointed by the EC as well, to oversee the process and ensure that it happens in a transparent manner.

Without the authorisation of the ECI, no one else has right to admission at the counting venue.

How are the votes counted?

The date and place of counting votes is fixed at least a week before dates of elections were announced. Official counters first break open the seals on the EVMs, and as counting proceeds, they update the numbers on a blackboard for dissemination of trends to the media.

Postal ballot papers are counted first. Then the EVMs are brought in and inspected before opening. The machine is powered on, the seal over the Result button is pierced, the button is then pressed to display the total number of votes recorded for each candidate at a particular polling station.

After counting for one round is over, EVMs are resealed. The Returning Officer waits for two minutes, during which any candidate who believes there has been a discrepancy can ask for a recount. The Returning Officer decides if the appeal to recount is valid.

The final results are then declared over a loudspeaker while the RO informs the EC of the outcome. There is enhanced security outside the venue. No one is allowed to enter the counting space with a mobile phone (except the observer appointed by the EC).

How many seats does one need to win?

A party or coalition needs 272 of the 543 seats in the lower house of the parliament to form a government.

In the 2014 elections, BJP became the first party to claw up a parliamentary majority all by itself, winning 282 seats all by itself. With NDA’s combined strength, it achieved the support of 336 in a 543-seat Lok Sabha.

Can a party without absolute majority stake claim?

If either of the national parties (BJP and Congress) or pre-poll alliances (NDA and UPA) fail to garner an absolute majority, they can assemble a post-election coalition even if it means siding with rival parties and stake a claim to form government. They will subsequently be subject to a floor test and vote of confidence, passing which the newly-formed coalition will nominate its Cabinet ministers. But if it fails the test, that government has to resign.

It is the former that many members of the gathbandhan are hoping for this year. Post-poll alliance talks for opposition parties are being spearheaded by Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu, an estranged NDA ally.

Talks have picked up steam ever since the last phase of polls on May 19 and despite the exit poll numbers. Naidu and Congress president Rahul Gandhi have decided to call a meeting in Delhi on May 21, of 21 parties that have banded together at the national level and constitute an anti-BJP bloc. They will then approach the President to impress upon him not to call the single largest party to form the government, in case of a split verdict.

This will be a preemptive effort to ensure that the single largest party is not given an opportunity to break regional alliances first. The question of whether the single largest party or a post-poll coalition should be invited to form the government has recurred frequently in the last couple of years.

The assembly elections in Manipur, Goa, and notably, Karnataka, has set the note of precedence of coalitions over the party with a single majority. In the southern state, the incumbent Congress, in a deft post-poll manoeuvre, tying up with HD Kumaraswamy’s Janata Dal (Secular). 

But in case of national elections, the last time a president had asked for letters of support was when Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s BJP won 178 seats and the alliance managed to scrounge together 252. However, this still fell short of the magic number of 272. The government collapsed within two years, losing the vote of confidence by a single vote.

Who are the kingmakers this time?

Opposition parties on Friday stepped up efforts to forge an anti-BJP front with TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu travelling across the country to shore up support from AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Communist Party of India’s G Sudhakar Reddy and D Raja, and Loktantrik Janata Dal founder Sharad Yadav.

Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav, the leaders of two of the most important regional parties in Uttar Pradesh (BSP and SP) will also play a crucial role in tilting the post-poll arithmetic. They have entered the race together to split the anti-BJP vote in the state which sends the highest number of Parliamentarians.

TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and TRS’ K Chandrashekhar Rao will also determine how BJP-led NDA fares in the East. While reports have emerged suggesting TRS may contemplate joining the NDA after the results, exit polls suggest BJP has made considerable gains in Banerjee’s Bengal, throwing the seat math in disarray.

Also read: Lok Sabha polls 2019: Picking up on post-poll alliance chatter

What are the exit polls saying?

Spelling doom for gathbandhan’s efforts, an overwhelming majority of exit polls have predicted a return of the NDA government. One dataset even suggests 365 seats for the ruling alliance, in the recently concluded marathon Lok Sabha polls. The PM seems confident of his victory as he has already scheduled his next episode for radio show “Man ki Baat” on June 3.

Going by most exit polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s Bharatiya Janata Party is on course to win the general elections, 2019. The only two polls that suggest otherwise are by ABP-Nielsen and NewsX; according to them, the BJP-led NDA will fall short of the 272-mark majority.

The numbers suggest that the primary opposition party, Indian National Congress, will be restricted to a double-digit figure with its parliamentary occupancy hovering near 80. The alliance it leads at the national level—UPA—is predicted to win 107-164 seats.

Also read: A saffron wave is coming: Here’s what all the exit polls say

What were the most important poll issues this time?

With 900 million eligible voters, the world’s biggest exercise in democracy took place in seven phases beginning April 11 and ending May 19. Many saw this election as a battle for India’s identity and the state of its minorities. Other raging issues included unemployment, inflation, farmer’s crisis, and national security.

If the exit poll numbers are indeed true and NDA secures a landslide victory on May 23, it will have proven that the country lacks a decisive Opposition or impressive enough alternative to Narendra Modi as PM; that the Congress is not willing to cede its position to upcoming regional powers even if that would mean a stronger alternative federal front against the BJP; and that the BJP has successfully bridged the rural-urban divide across polarising religious lines over the five years.

Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

General Elections 2019Lok Sabha Elections 2019