The declaration of winners of the elections to the 17th Lok Sabha, with May 23 being the counting day, could be delayed by a few hours, as the Election Commission has made it clear that the verification count of VVPAT slips of five polling stations per assembly constituency, as mandated by the Supreme Court, will be conducted one after another.
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As per the instructions issued by the ECI to the chief electoral officers of all states and union territories on April 13, 2019, regarding compulsory verification of VVPAT slips, the counting of the paper trail will be undertaken after the completion of counting of votes on all the EVMs. The VVPAT tally will be carried out only after the printed votes are required to be counted due to non-display of results on the EVMs, or under Rule 56(D) of the Conduct of Election Rules, as per which a candidate or an election agent can seek scrutiny of VVPAT slips if he or she disputes the announced results of any polling station. The VVPATs from the five randomly chosen polling booths per assembly segment will then be counted sequentially, and counting each VVPAT is expected to take an hour's time. An elaborate procedure has been laid out by the Election Commission for VVPAT verification.
This will be the first time that five polling booths per assembly segment will undergo VVPAT verification, and this is pursuant to the orders of the Supreme Court. The random selection of five booths per Assembly segment for carrying out VVPAT verification shall be done through a draw of lots by the returning officer concerned, in the presence of candidates or their agents appointed by the ECI for that constituency. The draw of lots will be carried out after the completion of the last round of counting of votes on the EVMs, and in the designated counting hall for that particular assembly constituency. The draw of lots will be done using white colour paper cards of postcard size, one for each polling station, and they will bear the printed details of the respective booths. These cards will be kept in a container and shaken before the returning officer picks up five slips.
The verification of VVPAT slips will be carried out in a 'VVPAT counting booth' specially prepared for the purpose inside the counting hall. The VVPAT counting booth will be enclosed in wire mesh just like a bank cashier's cabin so no VVPAT slip can be accessed by any unauthorised person. The entire process of VVPAT verification will be videographed.
Dealing with the question of what will happen if the printed record of votes on the VVPAT does not match the count on the EVM, the ECI has stated that, in such a situation, the paper trail will prevail. Hence, if there is a discrepancy between the count of votes displayed on the control unit of the EVM and the count of paper slips in respect of that polling station, the result sheet will be amended as per the printed paper slips count.