New Delhi: Hours from now, the counting of votes for Lok Sabha elections would begin on Thursday. The fate of over 8,000 candidates in 542 parliamentary constituencies will be revealed. While the counting of votes begins at 8 AM, initial trends will start coming in around 11 AM.

However, a clearer picture about winners and losers will emerge only by late afternoon. Experts said the final results may be announced by late evening and could be delayed even further due to an extra step of counting of Voter Verifiable Paper Trail Audit (VVPAT) slips this time apart from EVMs.

This is the first time that five VVPAT machines per Assembly constituency will be matched with EVMs to ensure fair counting process.

In the 2014 elections, the EC had used VVPATs for a pilot run in eight out of 543 Lok Sabha constituencies, but no tallying was done.

Polling was conducted across 10.3 lakh polling stations in all the seven phases. The matching of VVPAT matching with EVMs will be done in 20,600 stations. This exercise would mean an additional four to five hours.

Meanwhile, as per the procedure, postal ballots will be counted first. Service voters, who stand at 18 lakh, include diplomats and support staff posted in Indian embassies abroad, personnel of the armed forces, central police force personnel and state police personnel posted outside their constituencies. The exercise of counting postal ballots manually will itself take a couple of hours at least, an EC official said.

The paper trail machines slip will be counted in the end. In case of a mismatch, the results based on paper slip count will be considered as final. However, to ensure that there is a single source of authentic data, the EC has emphasised that round-wise data must be entered into its Suvidha application.

In the seven-phase elections, 67.11 per cent of the 90.99 crore electors had cast their vote. This is the highest-ever voter turnout in India’s Lok Sabha elections. Out of the 543 Lok Sabha seats, elections were held in 542 constituencies as the EC had cancelled polls to the Vellore constituency on the grounds of excessive use of money power.