An established election tradition could be on its way out,with a successful experiment in Punjab paving the way for its replication,and possible extension,in Uttar Pradesh.
Over the years,every political party has set up up a counter near each polling station to guide voters. This has sometimes caused psychological intimidation and even led to law and order situations. Now,the Election Commission is considering banning such counters,after they were pushed to the margins by the Punjab experiment home delivery of voter slips.
Almost all 1.76 crore voters had slips delivered at home by the ECs foot soldiers ahead of January 30. And this,the Election Commission feels,was the reason Punjab saw its highest turnout ever,78.57 per cent.
Though we did not deny parties the right to set up their own booths near polling stations,the fact that 99.67 per cent voters were provided photo-identity cards and parchis were delivered by block-level officers at home also brought out many to vote, said chief electoral officer Kusumjit Sidhu.
Previously,the voter had to walk to party booths,mainly the Akali Dals or the Congresss,to get details such as their voter number. At many places,a partys local cadre would distribute these slips after deciding a voters political inclinations.
The EC is now considering doing away with party counters completely,or at least in some phases in Uttar Pradesh. CEO Sidhu is learnt to have already conveyed this to the EC.
Even political parties have credited the high turnout to the slips reform. Among voters,about 10 per cent are reluctant to be identified with a political party, said Kushaldeep Dhillon,Congress general secretary and working with Captain Amarinder Singh. This time round,it was the ECs block-level officers who went to their homes. This brought out even the reluctant voter.
Many political parties had sought permission to set up their counters outside the polling stations,EC officials say,but not all of them actually ended up doing so. While some parties did not set up booths,those that did had little to do, an official said. At many places,party counters found no takers and could be seen abandoned by mid-day.
Reports received from all returning officers have stated that there very very few law and order problems because of the near absence of these booths.
As many as 19,841 booth-level officers,one for each polling station,had been tasked with the home deliveries. In fact,three or four BLOs were suspended following reports that they had failed to deliver their slips.
As a backup,the EC had got two sets printed of the 1.76 crore slips. This was to ensure that anyone who didnt get the slip at home could get it at the polling station.