Dots and commas among reasons for rejection of votes in presidential poll

india Updated: Jul 23, 2017 16:43 IST
DK Singh
DK Singh
Hindustan Times
Presindential polls,Ram Nath Kovind,NDA

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers sweet to Ram Nath Kovind on being elected as the 14th President of India, in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI Photo)

Dots and inverted commas have come to confound political parties, who are seeking to identify rebels during the 2017 presidential poll.

These led to the rejection of votes by 21 MPs and 56 MLAs, triggering much curiosity and concern among parties.

These 77 votes, with a value of 20,942, might be inconsequential to the outcome: NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind romped home with a margin of 3.67 lakh (in terms of value of votes). But there is no full stop in politics, as then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi said after the UPA’s victory in 2009.

Both the NDA and the opposition camps are anxious to know how many of the 77 invalid votes were a result of inadvertent errors and how many were by design. Over a hundred legislators were estimated to have cross-voted in valid votes.

Those involved in the counting of votes on July 20 told HT that invalid ones were due to dots, inverted commas, circles and slants that electors erroneously used on their ballot papers. They were supposed to express their first preference simply with a numeral 1 — second preference was unnecessary in a bipolar contest—in the box against the name of Kovind or Meira Kumar, the opposition parties’ nominee.

A Congress MLA from Haryana wrote 1. (numeral with a period-mark) rendering his vote invalid. Most of the 77 legislators made the same mistake, said those involved in counting.

The second most common error was “1”.

Some put a circle around the numeric. The BJP got one vote invalidated because the 1 was slanted “by about 30 to 40 degrees” and not perpendicular; the Congress got the same opportunity later. One of the MLAs wrote 1 over Meira Kumar’s name.

Given that legislators were clearly informed about the dos and don’ts, such errors were unexpected. Many of them could be inadvertent and a result of sheer habit but the rules set by the poll watchdog were not to be bent.

Senior BJD leader Bhartruhari Mahtab recalled one such instance in 2012 presidential poll in which he was the counting agent for PA Sangma. A Congress MLA from Odisha decided to go by his conscience—permitted in presidential polls where there is no party whip — and voted for Sangma. He used Oriya numeral P and not E for 1. Although both are used for 1, his vote was rejected after the Congress objected to it.

The list of possible errors is long. According to Anoop Mishra, secretary general of the Lok Sabha and the Returning Officer for the presidential poll, any of these can lead a vote invalid: Writing the same preference number outside both candidate’s names, putting a tick mark, or writing outside the box. “Votes can also be declared invalid if there are any other marks, which are not required and which can later identify the voter. These can even be a dot, a line or even a wrong-coloured ink,” he told HT.

Deepender Singh Hooda, counting agent for Meira Kumar, maintained that “broadly, votes for both sides got cancelled” due to errors, but the BJP seemed better prepared. Senior BJP leader Bhupendra Yadav, counting agent for Kovind, said that a day before the poling, his party had made a presentation to its legislators on voting rules.

“It’s possible that some members themselves might have got their votes rejected, but there could also be inadvertent errors. The Election Commission should think of a better way to ensure that votes are not rejected,” said Hooda.

First Published: Jul 22, 2017 23:40 IST