Bhubaneswar, Oct 2 (PTI) Counting of votes for the by-poll to the Pipili Assembly constituency in Odisha’s Puri district will start from 8 am on Sunday amid tight security and strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols, State Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) S K Lohani said.

Three-tier security will be provided at the counting centre, Lohani said.

“All officials and agents will have to wear face masks and follow COVID-19 protocols. Thermal scanning has been made mandatory”, Lohani said.

To avoid crowding at the counting tables and to check the spread of the infection, a video feed of the counting will be displayed on large screens outside the centre,” he said.

The by-election was held on September 30.

Postal ballots will be counted in the first 30 minutes while the counting session for the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will begin from 8.30 am, Lohani said.

The results of five Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) and EVMs will be randomly matched after the counting is over, he said.

While briefing reporters, the CEO said a total of 72 government officials, all fully vaccinated, will participate in the exercise.

The vote count will be held at 14 tables in three halls at Penthakota Warehouse.

While the EVM vote counting will be held in two halls, postal ballots will be counted in another hall. Three additional AROs (additional returning officers) have been appointed for the counting and the process will be supervised by an Election Observer, the CEO said.

Candidates are authorised to engage one counting agent at each table, he said.

“Only the ECI authorised media personnel will be allowed to enter the counting centre in batches. They will be escorted by the polling staff. They can visit the counting centre without a camera or any recording device and return after observing it,” he said.

Puri Superintendent of Police V K Singh said apart from the counting centre in the pilgrim town, security has been beefed in Piipli and Delang areas as a precautionary measure.

Pipili-Delang areas have a history of poll violence, an official at the district police intelligence wing said, adding that the security arrangements have been made accordingly.

The by-poll was held following the demise of sitting MLA Pradeep Maharathy in October 2020.

Ten candidates including Maharathy's son Rudrapratap (BJD), BJP's Ashrit Pattnaik and Congress nominee Biswokeshan Harichandan Mohapatra, are in the fray.