A day after the government amended election rules to allow voters aged 65 and above and those infected with the novel coronavirus to opt for postal ballot, the Congress Friday approached the Election Commission seeking an immediate withdrawal of the decision, terming it unconstitutional and illegal.
Senior Congress leaders Abhishek Singhvi and Randeep Surjewala in a virtual meeting with Election Commissioners argued that there are several legal deficiencies in the decision.
“The manner in which this decision has been taken demonstrates a complete non-application of mind and a shocking circumvention of any consultation process with the key stakeholders (i.e. any other political parties other than the ruling regime). Even upon a cursory examination, the numerous legal deficiencies in this decision become apparent,” the Congress said in a petition to the EC.
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 had told The Indian Express that Covid patients will be allowed to vote through postal ballots.
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.
The Congress has argued that allowing those aged 65 and above to vote by postal ballot violates secrecy in voting as a large segment of the population is uneducated and they might seek assistance from others at numerous stages, ending up disclosing their preferred candidate.
The decision also “exposes a high percentage of voters to organized administrative influence or influence by the Government or the ruling party or their agents or any number of individuals who shall be able to identify these individuals in advance (with ease) and influence how they vote without the protection of the secret ballot.”
Besides, the Congress said the decision, which “purportedly aims to protect senior citizens and to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infection,” may have an exact opposite effect “doubly endangering not just the voters but those around them vis-à-vis exposure to the Covid-19 virus.”
It said Form 13A along with the Postal Ballot Paper, has to be duly attested and notarized for which the voter will have to personally meet an officer. Secondly, “the voter shall have to utilize the services of a government postal office to send his or her postal ballot and therefore, will yet again risk either contracting or spreading Covid-19 infection,” the Congress said.
A better alternative, the Congress said, “would be to have a separate voting booth for Senior Citizens to minimize risk of infection.”
Arguing that the rate of rejection of postal ballots has been close to 20 per cent, it said “this 20% margin of error, once applied to the votes cast by electors of 65 years and above, is enough to completely change the outcome of any election.”
“In other words, and in light of these numerous requirements, postal ballots are a less reliable alternative and cannot become the norm, it said and asked the EC to utiilize its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution of India and direct the immediate withdrawal of this decision.
Earlier this week, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury had written to the Chief Election Commissioner registering his protest against the move.
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