STRESSING THAT the Election Commission (EC) will go the “extra mile” to ensure that the pandemic does not affect voter turnout in the Bihar polls later this year, Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra told The Indian Express that Covid patients will be allowed to vote through postal ballots.
In a strong indication that the Bihar polls are likely to be held on time, Chandra said the Law Ministry has accepted the EC’s proposal on this issue, following which a new category of “Covid-19 suspect or affected persons” has been added under Rule 27A of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
To be eligible under the new category, the voter should have tested positive in a government healthcare facility or one designated by the government as a Covid hospital. Voters under “home quarantine or institutional quarantine” can also avail the postal ballot option, he said.
“There will be an SOP for the Covid-positive voter to notify the Returning Officer…Once the application is accepted, the voter will not be allowed to vote at his or her polling booth. This facility will be extended to all future elections, including bye-elections,” Chandra said.
Asked about voters in containment zones who are not infected, Chandra said the panel has sought inputs from the state Chief Electoral Officer (in Bihar), and is considering a few options, including advance voting.
“We don’t want the turnout to go down… We will go the extra mile and even ensure that, if need be, a polling officer is sent to deliver the postal ballot to the Covid-positive voter and even bring it back,” he said.
To ensure social distancing, the EC has decided to limit the number of voters at each polling booth to 1,000, instead of 1,600 under normal circumstances. “So we will have to add another 30,000 polling stations,” he said.
As for campaigning by political parties, Chandra said, “(It) will also have to follow the health and NDMA guidelines. Parties will have to rely on virtual rallies and campaigning through social media. But the situation could change closer to the date of the poll in Bihar.” The term of the Bihar Assembly ends on November 29.
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