A record 74.62 per cent of the 46 lakh voters in Himachal Pradesh [ Images ] on Sunday exercised their franchise in the assembly election where ruling Bharatiya Janata Party [ Images ] and Congress are locked in a virtual straight contest.
After a slow start, polling for the 68-member assembly picked up as the day progressed and the hill state witnessed a massive turnout.
As per the voting figures till 5 pm, 74.62 per cent polling had been registered in the state and the percentage was expected to go up, election officials said here.
Election Commission Director General Akshay Raut said told reporters in Delhi [ Images ] that the polling was violence-free.
The polling figure may cross the previous best of 74.51 per cent registered in the state in 2003 as people waited to cast their ballot in 200 polling stations even after 1700 hrs, the time of close of poll.
Deputy Election Commissioner Alok Shukla said the EC had taken several steps to ensure a higher voter turnout in the state by making use of multiple media sources.
He said since counting of votes would be held on December 20 after the Gujarat election, elaborate arrangements have been made to keep the EVMs under CCTV vigil and guarded by central paramilitary forces.
The electorate in Himachal Pradesh comprises 46.08 lakh voters, including 22.31 lakh women. 7,253 polling stations were set up, including in Hikkim in Lahaul and Spiti at a height of over 15,000 feet. In all, 459 candidates are in the fray, 34 of them being women.
The main contest is between ruling BJP and Congress which have put candidates in all the seats. Led by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, incumbent BJP is hoping to script history in Himachal Pradesh by going the Punjab [ Images ] way, where the Akali Dal-BJP combine returned to power. The state has never repeated a government since 1977.
Congress leader and five-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh [ Images ] cast his ballot at his native place in Rampur town, some 120 km from Shimla, while the chief minister exercised his franchise in Hamirpur.
In the run up to Sunday's polling, issues like price rise and corruption seemed to have surpassed anti-incumbency factor.
The Bahujan Samaj Party has fielded 66 candidates followed by Himachal Lokhit Party (36), Trinamool Congress [ Images ] (25), Samajwadi Party (16), CPI-M [ Images ] (15), NCP and Swabhiman Party (12 each), CPI (7), Shiv Sena [ Images ] (4) and 105 Independents.
In the 2007 poll, BJP had won 41 as against Congress 23, while the independents and BSP had bagged 3 and one seats respectively.
Chief Electoral Officer Narinder Chauhan said polling was held simultaneously in all the constituencies, including three tribal constituencies after 19 years.
The exercise passed off peacefully barring minor incidents involving rival party workers in Chamba, Una and Palampur, he said.
Polling started on a dull note in the morning hours due to cold weather conditions but by 1600 hrs nearly 70 per cent voters had cast their ballot. Chamba, Kullu, Una, Sirmaur, Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti recorded heavy polling.
Polling was 100 per cent in Kaa polling station in Kinnaur where all 18 voters had cast their vote by noon.
Shimla constituency recorded the lowest polling of 49 per cent and Shimla (Rural) and Kusumpti 60 per cent and 57 per cent respectively.
The turnout was above 75 per cent in Kullu, Chamba, Mandi and Una districts and Shillai constituency in Simmer district.
Manali and Banjjar in Kullu district recorded 77 per cent polling while it was 75 per cent in other two constituencies of Kullu and Ani, according to preliminary figures.
In Chamba district Churah recorded 78 per cent polling while Dalhousie, Chamba and Bhatiyyat seats saw 71, 65 and 74 per cent polling. In Mandi district having ten constituencies, polling was above 73 per cent except in Jognider Nagar while all five constituencies in Sirmaour recorded polling above 80 per cent.
The average polling in Kangra district was around 68 per cent with some constituencies in Nurpur sub-division recording above 70 per cent polling. The tribal Lahaul and Spiti constituency with 22,344 votes recorded heavy polling, exceeding 77 per cent.
The EC said in Delhi that Shimla, which had "serious urban apathy" towards voting, has also registered an increase in turnout.