Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora has said virtual election rallies may become a new normal amid restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, but ruled out the Election Commission considering online voting as an alternative for Bihar Assembly elections later this year.
In an interview with jansatta.com, Arora said the EC is preparing on all levels to safely conduct elections on Bihar’s 243 Assembly seats by November 29. “We are making necessary changes in the polling procedures considering the safety of voters and polling agents, so that we can ensure protocols of social distancing, sanitisation, and wearing of gloves/masks,” he said.
On the EC’s preparedness to conduct safe elections, Arora said the commission will limit the number of voters at a polling station to 1,000 and to ensure this, additional polling stations will be designated. Security and polling equipment will be arranged accordingly, he said.
Arora also said optional postal voting service will be provided to citizens above the age of 80 years, specially-abled persons, people working in essential services, and COVID-19 patients in quarantine at home or hospital.
Arora said the commission has communicated COVID safety protocols to all national and state political parties, who will have to ensure they are followed during campaigning. He also said the Bihar CEO held a meeting with political parties on June 26 to ensure the guidelines are observed.
Arora said front-end and back-end officers engaged in election duty are being trained in safety protocols of COVID-19. Special directions will also be issued to the voters through all mediums, especially digital, he said.
On online voting as an option for polling, the CEC said, “The commission has not yet decided on online voting as an alternative. Election campaigning has also become difficult given the challenges posed by the pandemic. The commission is discussing the matter with national and state-level parties.”
On the virtual rallies, Arora said the commission has asked parties to send their recommendations by July 31. “Anybody can access digital platforms. Given the health-related risks, virtual rallies can become a necessity during this time,” he said.
The CEC also said the commission is prepared to tackle the challenges posed by paid news and fake news articles on social media. He said during the nomination filing, a candidate will have to mention his social media handles.
Arora said state election officers form a Media Certification and Monitoring Committee at the state and district level to monitor social media and media activity. If it finds any news article under the paid news category, it informs the Election Commissioner, who then sends a notice to the candidate concerned. If the news article is found to be ‘paid’, it is added to the election expenditure of the candidate.
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