EC not to extend postal ballot facility to voters aged above 65 in Bihar polls, bypolls
New Delhi, July 16: Citing constraints of logistics, manpower and safety protocols of COVID-19, the Election Commission on Thursday decided not to extend the postal ballot facility to electors above 65 years of age in the Bihar Assembly polls and bypolls due in the near future.
However, the EC, in a statement, said the facility of optional postal ballot will be extended to electors who are above 80 years of age, voters with physical disabilities, electors engaged in essential services and those who are COVID-19 positive or are in quarantine (home or institutional) in these elections.
The move comes even after the Law Ministry amended electoral rules in June this year on the request of the EC to allow those aged 65 years or above opt for postal ballot in future elections in view of COVID-19.
In October last year, the Law Ministry had amended the Conduct of Election Rules to allow people with disabilities and those who are 80 years of age or above to opt for postal ballot during the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
Now, on June 19, the ministry had cleared a fresh change in the rules, allowing those aged 65 years and above to opt for postal ballot. While amending the rules on the suggestions of the Election Commission, the ministry also allowed "COVID-19 suspected or affected persons" to use the postal ballot facility.
"However, before implementing this enabling provision, due notification is issued by the Commission, under section 60(c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 at the time of election," an EC statement explained.
The statement said the Commission has already limited the number of electors to one thousand for each polling station for ease of voting, especially for elderly and vulnerable sections of electors, in the COVID-19 situation.
In view of this, the state is creating additional 34,000 (approximately) polling stations which is 45 per cent more, and will increase the total number of polling stations to around 1,06,000. "This would entail formidable logistical challenges of mobilising 1.8 lakh more polling personnel and other additional resources including requirement of much larger number of vehicles in the state of Bihar," the Commission pointed out.
Similar challenges would be there for the coming by-elections also, it said. "Considering all these issues, challenges and constraints and in view of the decision to limit the number of electors at each polling station to 1000, Commission has decided not to issue the notification to extend the facility of postal ballot to the electors above 65 years of age in the coming General Elections in Bihar and by-elections due in the near future," it said.
However, facility of optional postal ballot to electors who are above 80 years of age, disabled voters, the electors engaged in essential services and voters who are COVID-19 positive/suspect in quarantine (home/institutional) will be extended in these elections, the poll panel made it clear.
An official explained that this postal ballot facility is different from the one extended to service voters. Here, those willing to use the facility have to fill up a form. Officials then carry the ballot to the residence of such voters and videograph the voting to ensure transparency.
"This means additional personnel," the official explained. Recently, some opposition parties had questioned extending the postal ballot facility to voters aged 65 years and above, claiming the decision was taken without consultations. They had also alleged that it could lead to manipulation of such votes and vitiate the polling process.