After Tejashwi’s Claim of Unfair Counting, Records Show Norms Followed, Recounting in 1 Seat: Report

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After RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s claim on Thursday over rejected postal ballots marking the difference between their victory and defeat in Bihar elections, a report states how according to Election Commission records only in the Hilsa assembly constituency was the winning margin less than the number of invalid postal ballots.

Bihar’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) told The Indian Express that after a request from the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader, all the postal ballots in this seat including the rejected ones, were recounted and found to be in order.

The JD(U) won the Hilsa seat against RJD’s Atri Muni with a wafer-thin margin of 12 votes. From the total 551 postal votes received for the seat, 182 were declared invalid.

Bihar CEO HR Srinivas said a recount of EVM votes as well as the postal ballots was demanded by the trailing candidate and the first request was refused by the Returning Officer (RO) because his counting agents were present at the time of the EVM results and were satisfied with the procedure. “To satisfy the candidate, the RO permitted recounting of all 551 postal votes, including the invalid ones. The result remained unchanged,” he said.

Yadav on Thursday had said – “How can it convert into their victory in 15 more seats than us? We believe that had the counting of votes been fair, we would have returned with a tally of more than 130 seats. In so many constituencies, postal ballots were counted in the end and not at the beginning of counting which is the norm. Moreover, there were seats where as many as 900 postal ballots were invalidated.”

The RJD leader said the party suspected this was done to offset the support they had received from a large number of servicemen who were moved by their commitment to one rank, one pension scheme. “We demand recounting of postal ballots in all such constituencies and the process be videographed,” Yadav had said.

Of the total 243 seats, just 11 — Hilsa, Barbigha, Ramgarh, Matihani, Bhorey, Dehri, Bachhwara, Chakai, Kurhani, Bakhri and Parbatta — saw a winning margin of less than 1,000 votes, according to the data shared by the Bihar CEO. Of these seats, the JD(U) won four, the RJD won three, and the BJP, CPI, LJP, and an Independent candidate each won one. RJD lost in only two seats determined by fewer than 1,000 votes, the report states.

With the exception of Hilsa, the winning margin was less than the rejected postal ballots in the 10 other seats. Although the candidates for the seats of Ramgarh, Matihani, Bhorey, Dehri and Parbatta also sought a recount, the RO turned down their request because the margin of victory was higher than the rejected postal votes. In each case, a reasoned order was given by the RO, the CEO said.

Responding to Yadav’s allegation of delay in handing over certificates to the winning candidates, Srinivas said that at the end of EVM counting, five polling stations were randomly chosen and their VVPAT slips were verified with the EVM count. “Counting VVPAT slips requires time and is a tedious activity. Apart from that in some situations, the VVPAT slips had to be tallied when the Control Unit did not display the outcome and the polling officer failed to remove the mock poll votes,” he said.

The Bihar CEO explained that although the EVM rounds are over according to the candidate, the final result announcement does not happen until the VVPAT slips are tallied and data from all polling stations is entered into the software of the EC. “These reasons contribute to the time taken in handing,” he added.

At a press conference on Thursday, Srivastava said that the body conformed to all the standards prescribed. “The elections were free, fair, transparent and we video-graphed the procedure of counting,” he said.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora on Thursday had also denied the allegations. He said the Bihar chief electoral officer has already responded to everything. The EC held four press conferences on counting day on November 10 to respond to various aspects of the process, Arora pointed out.

“We do not respond to comments made by political entities. It is their decision, what they said, why they said. The ultimate decision lies with people,” he told reporters here. Responding to a query on the “slow pace of counting”, Arora said keeping in mind the distancing norms in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of voters per polling station was restricted to 1,000 instead of the usual 1,500. This had resulted in an increase of 33,000 polling stations. This time, Bihar had over one lakh polling stations. More poling stations meant the use of 63 per cent additional electronic voting machines (EVMs).

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