Every time there is an election, government officials who are used to clear files or teachers who handle classes are drafted as polling officers. After a couple of training classes, they are expected to handle jobs relating to the conduct of polls.
“I was so tensed the previous night and did not sleep. My friends and colleagues had told me to expect some kind of violence. But I did not have any problem in my booth,” said a lady polling officer.
Over 26,000 polling officers, who were drawn from various government departments, participated in the elections to the expanded civic body Council held on Monday. Those on polling duty, including a large number of women, face many issues – from staying overnight at the booths (schools) to managing angry voters or sometimes, politicians.
“There are no bathrooms in the schools, only toilets. We were present at the polling booths from Sunday itself as we have to take care of the EVMs. All of us were women and on Monday we did not even have time to go to the toilet or have lunch. I skipped breakfast and was afraid to drink water,” said a lady polling officer, whose was on election duty for the first time.
“Though voters grumble when they have to stand in queue, they do not see the kind of problems we face. What do you do in a situation where 40 men barge into a booth? We will be forced to become mute spectators. Our own security is of prime concern,” said a polling officer who was on duty during the Chennai Corporation election held on Monday. “Though there was no violence in my booth this time, I have witnessed such incidents in the past,” he added.
“Even though polling has been modernised with the use of EVMs there were so many forms to be filled, said a presiding officer. “The classes we attended were of no use as we were not allowed to handle the EVMs initially. They should provide printed manuals with details of the procedure that we have to follow. If the Assistant Returning Officers, who are the zonal officers take time to come to the centre to collect the EVMs we have to wait till then. I reached home at 11.30 p.m. after poll duty,” she said.
Another woman, who has already done election duty in the districts, said there was nobody in the booth to lift and place the EVMs or control units. “In the districts the Revenue Department officials would ensure that we get food. But here that is not the case. The cost of food is included in the money the Corporation pays us. The school in which I was posted was located in the middle of a residential locality and there was not a single tea shop nearby,” she said.
Absenteeism is also an issue that polling officials have to deal with. One lady polling officer was frantically making phone calls to the ARO concerned on Sunday as the officers assigned to the booth did not come. “I did not have a Polling Officer number 2 instead I had two P3s, so in the last minute I made one of them perform the duty of P2,” said an official.
Chennai Corporation Commissioner and District Election Officer D.Karthikeyan said that absenteeism was an issue when it came to conduct of elections. “In the first training class that we conducted nearly 11,000 were absent. Only after I issued a strict warning many people came for the second class. We mobilised more people and had kept people on reserve. Around one to two per cent of staff on polling duty would have been absent,” he said.
Keywords: Tamil Nadu local body elections