NEW DELHI: Nearly 58 per cent of the total 2.35 crore electors exercised their franchise in the third and final round of polling in Bihar Saturday as voting concluded in the first major election in the country since outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
As many as 78 assembly constituencies spread across 15 districts in the Seemanchal, Kosi, Mithilanchal and Tirhut regions went to polls in the final phase amid strong security and unprecedented anti-coronavirus measures.
According to Election Commission data updated at 10 pm, the provisional voter turnout in the third phase of polling was 57.92 per cent, higher than the polling percentage recorded in the first (55.68) and the second (55.70) phases of voting.
However, the provisional turnout in the final phase is lower than the 2015 polling percentage of 60.51 on the corresponding seats.
The overall turnout in 2015 was 56.66 per cent, according to poll panel data.
With the polling having been concluded for all the 243 seats, the focus now shifts to the counting of votes on November 10.
While several exit polls on Saturday gave the RJD-led opposition alliance an edge over the ruling NDA, but who will rule the state for the next five years will be known only after the votes are counted on Tuesday.
Kishanganj district recorded the maximum 62.55 polling percentage in the third phase, while the minimum (52.68) was recorded in Vaishali.
Voting was simultaneously held in the Valmiki Nagar Lok Sabha seat, where a by-poll was necessitated due to the death of JD(U) MP Baidyanath Mahto.
It recorded a provisional turnout of 56.02 per cent compared to 61.89 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabh elections.
In the third phase of polling, 2.35 crore voters -- 1,23 crore men, 1.12 crore women and 894 in the third gender category -- were eligible to decide the fate of 1,204 candidates which included assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Chaudhary and 12 ministers.
This phase of elections is also noteworthy because of the role the "Owaisi factor" might play.
Headed by fiery Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, the AIMIM is in the fray in more than a dozen seats, mostly in the Kosi-Seemanchal region which is densely populated and has a high percentage of Muslim residents.
Polling was held at 33,782 polling stations where as many EVM sets and VVPAT machines were installed and paramilitary forces deployed to maintain order.
The 33,782 polling booths were housed in 14,334 buildings of which 337 were in naxal-affected areas, the poll panel said.
In Araria, Jokihat seat RJD candidate Sarfaraz Alam turned up for voting with a party badge pinned in his shirt.
He has been booked for violating model code of conduct.
Alam is the elder son of former Union minister Mohammad Taslimuddin and is pitted against younger brother Mohammad Sahnawaz, who is in the fray from Asaduddin Owaisi- led AIMIM party.
In Purnias Dhamdaha segment, the brother of a wanted criminal was shot dead by an unidentified assailant barely 100 metres from a polling booth when he was going to vote, while police opened fire in the air to disperse an unruly mob form near a polling station.
"Security personnel fired in the air in self-defence," the poll panel said, adding the situation returned to normal in about 30 minutes and polling concluded peacefully.
In terms of polling percentage, Kishanganj (62.55) is followed by Katihar (61.57), Supaul (61.19), Saharsa (60.20), Purnia (59.25), Madhepura (59), Samastipur (58.15) and Muzaffarpur (57.57) among others.
Madhepura district's Bihariganj, from where veteran socialist leader Sharad Yadavs daughter Subhashini Yadav is making her poll debut on a Congress seat, recorded polling percentage of 58.30.
Plurals Party president Pushpam Priya Choudhary, who is also her partys chief ministerial candidate, cast her vote with her mother in a booth at Darbhanga.
State ministers Bijendra Prasad Yadav, Suresh Sharma and Pramod Kumar cast their vote in their respective booths.
The pandemic failed to dampen voters' enthusiasm as several elderly and differently-abled electors, some assisted by their kin, some by security personnel and some others by volunteers, came out to vote in large numbers.
The poll panel had set up multiple model polling centres.
A polling station in Saharsa was beautifully decorated.
There were designated selfie points for people to click themselves after casting their votes.
Some wheelchair-bound voters were also facilitated to cast the ballot.
However, COVID-19 guidelines were being violated at several polling booths.
A PTI reporter found violations of coronavirus guidelines at many polling booths he visited in Samastipur with people not wearing masks and flouting distancing norms.
"Voting passed off peacefully and successfully," Bihar Chief Electoral Officer HR Srinivas said thanking political parties and candidates for their cooperation.
A total of 880 cases were registered for violations of the Model Code of Conduct during the three phase of elections of which 156 were for flouting COVID-19 guidelines.
The first phase of voting took place on October 28 and the second round on November 3.