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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Explained ideas: How India’s Election Commission passed the Covid-19 test

S Y Quraishi writes: Bihar can be a leading example of how to successfully conduct an election in difficult times.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 15, 2020 12:20:15 pm
Bihar results, Bihar election results, Election Commission, Bihar Covid-19 election, Covid and elections, Indian ExpressA voter undergoes thermal screening before casting her vote during the third phase of the Bihar Assembly Elections, at a polling station at Mahua in Vaishali, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. (PTI Photo)

According to S Y Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner of India and a distinguished Fellow at Ashoka University, “after facing some serious questions during the general elections in 2019, that affected its image, the Bihar elections were an opportunity for the Election Commission of India (ECI) to prove its efficiency and evenhandedness to every sceptic”.

In his view, “at a time, when all countries are looking at each other for lessons, Bihar could be a leading example of successful election management — and the ECI of a leading election management agency”.

The ECI was inspired by the successful experiences of many countries, especially South Korea, which conducted its national elections in the midst of the pandemic with great success — and the highest-ever turnout.

As many as 34 countries have conducted elections to their national assembly or presidential post while being engaged in the battle against the novel coronavirus. To leave nothing to chance, the ECI consulted its counterparts in several countries and asked them to share their experiences before deciding to overrule all objections and go ahead with the elections.

Besides the usual norms related to sanitising and social distancing, these guidelines included a reduction in the limit of electors per polling booth to 1,000, from the current 1,500, in order to prevent overcrowding. The consequent addition of nearly 40,000 extra polling stations meant as many additional EVMs. To avoid crowding at the counting centres, the counting tables were reduced to seven per hall from 14. Door-to-door canvassing was restricted to groups of five persons.

To counter the possibility of a lower voter turnout due to the pandemic, the ECI extended the postal ballot option to senior citizens over the age of 80, COVID-positive patients, persons with disabilities and voters employed in essential services, along with making use of its now famous SVEEP (Systematic Voter Education for Electoral Participation) programme.

Also read | Suhas Palshikar explains five main takeaways from the Bihar election results

The commission faced other challenges as well — fake news and hate propaganda. The ECI has been proactive in dealing with both. It had drafted a Voluntary Code of Ethics in collaboration with social media platforms, allowing direct engagement between the two over problematic posts during an election season. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

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