Rejected Votes

July 25 elections were full of surprises. One of the many surprises on the polling day and count was the staggering numbers of votes that the returning officers (ROs) had rejected. In as many as thirty constituencies, the number of votes rejected was higher than the winning margin between the victor and runner-up contenders. The higher number of ballots rejected across the country has stirred controversies in many constituencies.

Candidates are raising objections on the fairness of the polling process. Because there are many constituencies where rejected votes were higher than the margin of victory, many disgruntled candidates are asking for a recount. The Election Commission of Pakistan should allow all such appeals of the recount to remove any allegations of rigging that might arise in future. Simple mathematics tells us that the probability of rejected votes of the winning candidates may be higher than those who have lost elections, yet it is important not to let probability takes precedence over the option of the recount.

It is true that many ROs have sensibly accepted the petitions for the recount; many have arbitrarily rejected requests for a recount in circumstances where others have had their applications approved. All ROs should adopt a uniform criterion. In fact, the Elections Act 2017 already stipulates a uniform standard in this regard. A provision in the said Act provides an option of a recount to candidates where the winning margin is less than five per cent of the total votes cast or 10,000 whichever is less. For instance, in NA-89 (Sargodha) the difference was 823 votes while votes rejected were 6,869. In NA-74 (Sialkot-III) the winning margin was 3501 votes while the rejected vote count was almost 9000.

In cases like the ones stated above, a better approach, to remove any allegations of rigging, will be if ECP on its own initiates a recount process in all constituencies where cancelled votes exceed the winning margins.

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