India elections

Indian election commission bats away concerns in record-breaking ballot count

Indian election commission bats away concerns in record-breaking ballot count
Indian voters queue up to vote in the seventh and last phase of the Indian parliament elections at a polling station on the outskirts of Amritsar, Punjab, India, 01 June 2024. General elections in India are held over seven phases between 19 April and 01 June 2024, which are held every five years and about 968 million people are eligible to vote. Results will be announced on 04 June 2024 for India's 545-member lower house of parliament, or Lok Sabha. EPA-EFE/MANU ARORA

NEW DELHI, June 3 (Reuters) - India's Election Commission said on Monday a record-breaking 642 million voters cast their ballots in the general election that concluded on June 1 and dismissed opposition concerns over how the votes would be counted.

The seven-phase vote – the world’s largest – began on April 19 and was held in scorching summer heat in many parts of the country, with temperatures rising to nearly 50 degrees Celsius (122°F) in some north and northwestern regions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a third consecutive term and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance is projected to win a big majority, TV exit polls said on Saturday, ahead of the counting on Tuesday.

“We have created a world record of 642 million proud Indian voters. This is a historic moment,” Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar told reporters.

Although the 2024 turnout is higher than the 612 million voters who cast their ballots in 2019, it is about one percentage point lower than the 67.4% turnout five years back.

Turnout among 968 million registered voters was possibly lower in the initial phases because there was no single major issue to draw voters out in the heat, analysts said.

Kumar said the vote-counting process had been in place for decades and was “very robust”.

“All work will be done transparently. If someone still tries to do something wrong, strict action will be taken,” he said.



His comments on the vote-counting process came a day after the opposition INDIA alliance, led by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party, urged the commission to follow norms during counting.

The alliance of two dozen parties petitioned the commission (EC) to stick to its old system of completing counting postal votes before declaring results from votes cast in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

Postal votes, which are paper ballots, are mostly cast by troops serving outside their home constituencies or officials away from home on election duty.

This year, postal votes were also offered to voters over 85 years of age and people with disabilities to allow them to vote from home.

Kumar said the majority of postal votes would be counted before the completion of EVM vote counting and the process could not be changed at this stage of the election.

The INDIA alliance also urged the EC to ensure the “safe movement” of voting machines and their verification before and after the counting process, which Kumar said had been accepted.

Opposition parties have in the past accused the commission of bias in favour of BJP on issues such as violations during the campaign – charges the EC denies – but have not challenged the counting process or election outcomes.

Some opposition leaders and watchdogs have also claimed, without evidence, that EVMs can be manipulated. The EC has rejected those accusations and courts have endorsed EVMs.

Kumar said one key learning for future elections would be to hold polls at least a month earlier to avoid extreme heat.

(Reporting by YP Rajesh and Sakshi Dayal; Additional reporting by Shivam Patel; Editing by Michael Perry and Ros Russell)


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