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Explainer: The anatomy of poll count

Updated July 15, 2018


ONCE the votes are cast at the polling station, the daunting task of poll count and consolidation begins. The process is crucial, for it has been the focus of election discourse in Pakistan — given its lack of transparency and prospects of rigging.

Fortunately, the Elections Act 2017 has introduced various requirements to ensure checks and deter attempts at fraud. Of its many additions to the count process, the law now requires Presiding Officers to transmit an electronic “snapshot” of results forms to Returning Officers (RO) and has obliged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to publish on its website polling station and constituency results forms within 14 days of polling.

Here is what you need to know about how your votes are processed.

Proceedings at the close of poll

The Presiding Officer shall count the votes immediately after the close of the poll in the presence of such of the contesting candidates, election agents, polling agents and authorised observers as may be present. Firstly, all ballot papers from the ballot box(es) are counted, and then the tendered and challenged ballot papers, followed by counting ballots for each candidate.

The Presiding Officer prepares two forms. The first [Form 45] is the ‘Result of the Count’ showing the number of valid votes for each contesting candidate and ballot papers excluded from the count. This form will also include gender-disaggregated data on the basis of male and female voters scored out from the electoral rolls in the relevant polling booth(s).

The second form (Form 46) is the ‘Ballot Paper Account’ showing the number of ballot papers received, un-issued, taken out of the ballot boxes, tendered, challenged and spoilt.

Both polling station results forms are signed by the Presiding Officer, the most senior Assistant Presiding Officer, and an accredited observer and agents as may be present. The Presiding Officer shall note on the forms if any such person refused to sign. Copies of the polling station results forms are stamped and thumb marked by the Presiding Officer and the most senior Assistant Presiding Officer, and should be given to candidates and agents present with a receipt obtained.

Presiding Officers are required to immediately take [a] snapshot of the Result of the Count and, as soon as connectivity is available and it is practicable, electronically send it to the Commission and the RO before sending the original documents.

Under what circumstances can the votes be recounted?

A Presiding Officer may recount the ballots once only, based on his/her own initiative, or upon the request of a contesting candidate or his/her agent.

If a contesting candidate is not satisfied with the result of an election, what recourse does he/she have to lodge their objections?

A candidate can call an election in question by filing an election petition in the manner prescribed under the law. The election petitions will be heard and decided by the Election Tribunals appointed by the Chief Election Commissioner.

What is the requirement for a recount?

Under the Elections Act 2017, there are stronger requirements for recounts. The RO shall recount the ballot papers of one or more polling stations if a request or challenge in writing is made by a contesting candidate or his election agent and the margin of victory is less than five per cent of the total votes polled in the constituency or 10,000 votes, whichever is less. The recount can be made only once.

If there is a difference between the Results of the Count received from the Presiding Officers and the results of the recount, the RO shall record the difference and details.

How are the ballot papers examined?

Ballot papers are excluded if they bear no official mark and signature of the Presiding Officer; no prescribed mark to indicate the contesting candidate for whom the voter has voted for; or any mark from which it is not clear for whom the voter has voted.

Ballot papers are included if due to over-inking or wrong folding, the ink from the rubber stamp has made a second impression on another candidate’s space. This vote should be counted in the favour of candidate to whom original stamp was marked.

Announcement of provisional results

On receipt of the ‘Results of the Count’ from all Presiding Officers of a constituency, the RO shall forthwith prepare and announce provisional Consolidated Statement of ‘Results of the Count’ of the constituency (excluding postal ballots) in the presence of such contesting candidates, their election agents or authorised observers as may be present. A copy of the provisional Consolidated Statement of Results is affixed and signed by him at a conspicuous place in his office and a copy is sent thereof to the Commission.

The law specify the Provisional Consolidated Statement of Results form (Form 47) and state that this must be prepared based on the “results of the count received by him from Presiding Officers electronically, or personally whichever is earlier”. The same rule notes that in case, the RO finds any error in the Form, he shall ask the Presiding Officer to rectify the error and sign the same and resend electronically.

ROs are required to compile the provisional results and on or before 2am the day immediately following the polling day and communicate these results electronically to the ECP.

How are the results processed for consolidation?

The law requires ROs to electronically send to ECP results documentation (after the consolidation process) for publication on its website. The ROs are to electronically send — (a) scanned copy of the provisional results… (b) scanned copies of the Consolidated Statement of the Results of the Count, Final Consolidated Result together with Results of the Count and the Ballot Paper Accounts, as received by him from the Presiding Officers. Original copies of documents must be sent within 24 hours of the consolidation.

When are the results officially declared by the ECP?

The Commission is constitutionally required to declare the results within 14 days of polling.

What counts as offence on polling day?

A person is guilty of the offence of corrupt practice if he — (a) is guilty of bribery, personation, exercising undue influence, capturing of polling station or polling booth, tampering with papers, and making or publishing a false statement or declaration; (b) calls upon or persuades any person to vote, or to refrain from voting, for any candidate on the ground that he belongs to a particular religion, province, community, race, caste, biradari, sect or tribe; (c) causes or attempts to cause any person present and waiting to vote at the polling station to depart without voting.

Penalty for corrupt practice

Any person guilty of the offence of corrupt practice shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees or with both.

Disorderly conduct near polling station

A person is guilty of disorderly conduct near a polling station if he, on the polling day — (a) uses, in such manner as to be audible within the polling station, any gramophone, megaphone, loudspeaker or other apparatus for reproducing or amplifying sounds; (b) persistently shouts in such manner as to be audible within the polling station; (c) does any act which — (i) disturbs or causes annoyance to any voter visiting a polling station for the purpose of voting; or (ii) interferes with the performance of the duty of an election official or any person on duty at a polling station; or (d) abets the doing of any of these acts.

Canvassing in or near the polling station

A person is guilty of canvassing in or near a polling station if he, on the polling day — (a) within a radius of four hundred meters of a polling station — canvasses for votes; solicits the vote of any voter; persuades any voter not to vote at the election or for a particular candidate; or (b) exhibits, except with the permission of the Returning Officer and at a place reserved for the candidate or his election agent beyond the radius of one hundred meters of the polling station, any notice, sign or flag designed to encourage the voters to vote or discourage the voters from voting, for any contesting candidate.

Penalty for illegal practice

A person guilty of the offence of illegal practice shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees or with both.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2018