After performing the herculean task of recording the choice of nearly 56 crore electors in the EVMs, the Election Commission is all geared up to start counting of votes on May 16.
Amid tight three layered security, the counting exercise will begin almost simultaneously at 8:30 am on 989 counting centres spread across the country with the counting of the postal ballots.
In all the fate of 8,251 candidates, including top leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Mulayam Singh and Arvind Kejriwal will be decided by 56 crore voters in the largest-ever electoral exercise held in Indian history.
While the national parties — Congress, BJP, BSP, CPI, CPI(M) and NCP — fielded a total of 1,591 candidates, 47 state parties fielded 529 candidates. About 1,600 registered but unrecognised political parties fielded 2,897 candidates. Besides, 3,234 Independents are also in the fray.
The sealed EVMs that are presently locked in the strong rooms under CCTV surveillance and round-the-clock security provided by the central paramilitary forces will be brought at counting halls of district headquarters under heavy security protection on the morning of May 16. They will be opened in the presence of observers, counting staff provided by the Election Commission and the polling agents of different political parties.
Besides the Returning Officer, usually the District Magistrate, each counting centre is expected to have four senior observers and a huge number of micro observers and other counting staff.
One EVM shall be placed on each table with three officials under the EC – a micro observer, counting assistant and counting supervisor.
As per the EC guidelines, half-an-hour after the postal ballots get counted the process of counting votes from the over seven lakh EVMs will begin.
The 'ballot unit' will be switched on in the presence of senior poll officials and counting agents of candidates and the result command keyed in to get results per machine.
The EC has allowed presence of one polling agent on behalf of the candidate or the candidate himself or herself from each political party to be present in the hall but they won't be allowed to crowd the table where EVM is placed and would be shown the result from a distance.
Mobile phones and fire arms have been banned inside the counting centres to check any speculation of result that shall be declared only after obtaining permission from the Election Commission. To keep the counting hassle-free the EC has given instructions not to allow any person having security cover provided by the centre or the state to be appointed as the polling agent.
Albeit, the EC has made one exception to this rule on the request of the Congress and has allowed contesting candidate having SPG protection entry inside the counting hall accompanied with one SPG personnel in plain clothes and one concealed arm.
As counting on EVMs is brisk, trends will start appearing by 9:30 am and clear leads will be there to see by 2 o'clock in the afternoon. Final results from all centres are expected to be out by 4 pm thus making or breaking the hearts of thousands of candidates in the fray.