Painstakingly slow pace of vote counting points to inevitability of EVMs

May 17, 2017


Kathmandu- It’s been three days today that the first phase of local-level elections took place for 283 rural municipalities and municipalities of the country, but not even 10 per cent of the results are announced. 

And there is no sign that the slow pace of vote counting is going to speed up, with Election Commission, the election management agency of the country, already announcing that it would take at least a week for results to be made public in some of the most populous municipalities of the country. 

It seems the EC was ill-prepared as far as the vote counting is concerned, despite tall claims from the Commissioners that the Commission was up and ready months before even the date for the election was announced. However, preparations alone would not have made things better, as there are varied reasons behind the delay in the counting of votes done manually. 

Unlike the recent past election to the Constituent Assembly I and II or the last local elections held in May 1997, the ballot paper this time is huge with many posts to vie for including some reserved posts for women and Dalits. Hence, naturally the counting would take comparatively longer. And with the tendency for every political party agent to be satisfied with each and every count, the job of counting the votes makes it tedious and tardy for the EC officials. 
Following widespread public outcry over the snail-paced progress in counting of votes, the EC has only decided to increase the number of vote counting groups, provided there is enough space for the same in the vote counting centres, usually set up at the office of the Chief Returning Officer. This might help bring the result a day or two earlier, but still it’s too late as far as the voters are concerned, who are very much looking forward to see what has been the fate of their vote. 

Another problem seen with the abnormal size of the ballot paper this time is the significant number of invalid votes, even in urban centres with high literacy rate. Reports are already coming in of a high rate of invalid votes, which is certain to become the highest in all the elections so far. Parties forging alliances at the last minute, with party symbols missing at different columns have also confused voters, leading many to waste their precious votes and also contributing to the rising number of invalid votes. 

Voters this time have also complained of the low quality of the ballot paper, forcing them to be extra cautious while putting the stamp and also folding it before dropping into the ballot box. Voting time has also considerably increased as a result. 

With election at the local-level this time being held in two phases, one would expect the Election Commission to learn from the first phase and adopt measures to address all the shortcomings including the process of counting of votes. The Election Commission however was recommended using the electronic voting machine or EVM, which would have helped avoid all such difficulties. 

Use of an EVM, now available in a digital format with the possibility of using as much symbols as one would require, would not only have made vote counting simpler and quicker but also increased the overall elections. Though expensive at the outset, it would also have been comparatively cheaper in the long-term. It would have been definitely value for money, given the hassles we are facing now in counting of the votes. The results would have already been known, a few hours from the end of the voting time, with just a press of the button. 

The EVM would also have saved precious trees chopped down to make the papers required to print the ballot papers. Such has been the technological advance in the field of EVM that even the voters list or roll can be available in a digital format, making the voting process simpler, easier and efficient. 

With very little time available, the Election Commission had proposed using the EVM in a few municipalities in Kathmandu to pilot the system and then decide to expand it based on the experience gained. However, the government could not decide on it, possibly for lack of a political consensus over the same. 

Media reports were also rife about the credibility of the company supplying the EVMs and the fast-track process that was supposedly being used to employ the EVMs for the local-level elections. As far as the EC is concerned, use of EVMs could have cut its task by almost half, including in the printing of ballot papers, transporting of ballot papers and ballot boxes, use of human personnel and the time consumed for the entire election process. 

Hence, political parties, the major constituents as far as the election is concerned, could mull over the possibility of the use of EVMs and use it after addressing their concerns, if any, over the machines. This would not only benefit them but also the voters at large and the nation in the long-term, saving precious time and money as well. RSS 


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