Shimla: A record over 74 percent, highest in four decades, of Himachal Pradesh's 50.25 lakh electorate on Thursday exercised their franchise in the assembly elections where the ruling Congress and the BJP were locked in a straight contest.
"The percentage is expected to go up further. This is the highest poll percentage recorded by the hill state in assembly polls," Dilip Sharma, Director General, Election Commission, told reporters in New Delhi.
Election officials said the polling was peaceful and no major untoward incident was reported from the 68 seats.
However, there were reports of malfunctioning of EVMs and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines at a few polling booths, which led voting continuing at these booths even after the polls officially closed at 5 pm.
Voters across the state were seen reaching polling stations even before polling started at 8 am. despite the cold in the single-phase election. Higher reaches witnessed mild rain and snow later in the day.
"Despite minor hiccups as EVMs developed snags at some places, there was no report of any delay in starting the poll process," an electoral officer said.
In the first two hours, the state recorded 13.72 percent polling but by 4 pm., nearly 64 percent of votes were cast.
A total of 337 candidates, 19 of them women, are in the fray. There are 112 Independent candidates. The main contest is between the ruling Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Congress has projected incumbent Virbhadra Singh, 83, as its Chief Ministerial candidate, while former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, 73, is the BJP's. Both are contesting the elections.
Both Singh and Dhumal cast their votes along with family members at their hometowns Rampur and Samirpur respectively.
Union Health Minister JP Nadda and Congress leader and former Commerce Minister Anand Sharma cast their votes in Bilaspur and Shimla towns.
"The BJP has made false promises run fake campaigns in the state to lure the voters," Sharma told reporters.
After casting his votes, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who is trying to get at the helm for the seventh time, said he was confident of the Congress getting a majority.
On the other hand, two-time Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition Dhumal said the BJP was aiming to get 60 plus seats this time.
Women, who form 19 lakh of the over 50 lakh voters, turned out in strength in the rural areas. The electorate also includes 14 transgenders.
The Congress and the BJP have fielded candidates on all 68 seats, while the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist have fielded 42 and 14 candidates respectively.
Shyam Sharan Negi, 100, the first voter of India, cast his vote for the 15th time in the assembly polls at Kalpa in Kinnaur district.
Elections official provided him with a vehicle for his transportation to the polling booth from his home.
For the first time, the Election Commission used VVPAT machines to ensure secrecy of the votes.
The highest polling station in the state has been set up at an elevation of over 15,000 feet at Hikkam in Lahaul and Spiti district. It has 194 electors and saw an 85 percent turnout despite snow in the evening.
In Chamba town, the Election Commission made special arrangements for transporting at least 30 patients from a government hospital to their respective polling booths.
The vote count will be held on December 18 along with Gujarat.
The Congress had won 36 of the 68 seats in Himachal Pradesh in 2012 with a 42.81 percent vote share, while the BJP bagged 26 seats with a 38.47 percent vote share.
In the 2012 assembly elections, the poll percentage figure was over 73.5 percent, the highest since 1977, while it was 68.36 percent in 2007.