Covid-19 patients and suspects will be allowed to vote in the coming Bihar Assembly elections in “the last hour of poll day”, while others will have to mandatorily wear gloves before using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), as per guidelines issued by the Election Commission on Friday.
While the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), NCP and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have suggested postponement of the polls, the Election Commission, by all indications, is intent on holding them on schedule, around October-November.
Sources in Patna said the polls could be held in two or three phases (the last polls were held in five phases). The technical staffers dealing with EVMs have reportedly been offered health insurance, particularly after some of them tested positive. Sources said the EC has completed a first-level check of EVMs and VVPATs, and completed training of returning officers.
On Monday, the state Chief Electoral Officer will conduct an online meeting with all state district magistrates.
A district magistrate told The Indian Express there had been discussions on using radio frequency identification (RFID), to replace voter slips as well as register the presence of voters at a booth online. “Pressing the EVM button could be the only direct physical touch during the electoral process,” the DM said.
As per the guidelines issued by the EC on Friday, not more than 1,000 voters, instead of the usual 1,500, will be assigned to a polling station. Their temperatures would be checked before they are allowed in. The voting hours could be extended to ensure there is no crowding. Similarly, there could be more rounds of counting, sources said in Patna.
“If temperature (of a voter) is above the set norms of MoHFW (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) at first reading, then it will be checked twice, and if it remains (high), then the elector shall be provided with token/certificate and will be asked to come for voting at the last hour of poll,” the guidelines state.
Towards the end of polling day, those in Covid-19 quarantine would also be allowed to vote.
The EC has said a separate set of guidelines would be issued for voters living in areas notified as containment zones.
Friday’s guidelines advise that a sufficient number of polling staff and EVMs be kept in reserve for a situation arising out of a polling personnel displaying Covid-l9 symptoms.
Earlier, Bihar Chief Electoral Officer H R Srinivas had told the EC that 33,000 additional polling booths had been planned apart from the 77,000-odd used in previous elections, to ensure social distancing between voters.
For candidates, the EC has capped the size of the campaign squad to three people for door-to-door visits and allowed just five cars, instead of 10, in a convoy for roadshows. Only two people can accompany a candidate for filing of nomination papers, while the number of attendees at a rally or a gathering cannot exceed “the limit prescribed by the State Disaster Management Authority for public gatherings”.
While the EC has said its guidelines are based on feedback received from political parties, it is silent on digital rallies, one of the main issues raised by the Opposition parties. The RJD and CPM had urged the Commission not to allow digital rallies — a few have already been held by the BJP — on the grounds of disruption of the level-playing field. A BJP ally, the LJP has also suggested limits on this mode of campaigning.
The BJP had recommended that the expenditure ceiling for candidates be raised to accommodate for the spending on masks, soap, PPE kits and thermal screening during campaigning amidst the coronavirus. Alternatively, it had said, such expenditure should be added to the party’s account and not the candidate’s. EC sources said the suggestion was under consideration.