“Remaining alert, knowing voter strength prevent untoward incidents”

“When a person walks in without the required identification documents, how should you react?” This was one of the questions for trainers at the training session held for polling officers and presiding officers on Sunday.

“We had an official explaining to us ways of handling difficult situations such as a voter claiming Non-Resident Indian status. The person does not have a voter ID card or a driver's licence. It is the kind of situation we must anticipate,” said Rajalakshmi, who is attending the training programme for polling officers.

But it is an interesting experience to be part of the election process, she admits. She has come from Ramapuram to T. Nagar and does not know which polling booth she would be finally assigned, but hopes it would be closer home.

For many of them, it is a Sunday lost. A zonal official in T. Nagar said, “It is an important event. Look, a thousand people have come here for training. And I have been dispensing biscuit packets and tea since morning though I am upset that I have lost a holiday. The next training is also on a Sunday. We would all lose three Sundays and the polling day holiday.”

Despite difficulties such as commuting long distances for the training or for poll work, some enjoy it as it is a break from routine.

Nalini was a presiding officer in the previous parliamentary election. An independent candidate walked into her room and began shouting at her during the poll process.

“I was explaining to some voters about the EVM. Apparently someone had torn the candidate list pasted on the wall outside the booth. The independent candidate was upset about this. He walked into the room and started shouting at me. It took sometime to bring back order,” she recalled.

Some of them have bad memories of election duty, too. For Priya *, who has been a presiding officer in four elections, the toughest assignment was when she was posted at a booth in Vysarpadi. She had to stay overnight with police personnel in the booth which had no electricity.

“We stayed awake chatting up. On poll day, the polling officers brought me food from home as we are not allowed to leave the booth.”

Raji, who has been on poll duty five times, recalls the horrifying experience of having workers of a political party threaten her with a knife, warning her to remain quiet while they filled the ballot box.

Election duty is not a nuisance, says S. Jayaram, who has been a presiding officer in five elections. Remaining alert and knowing the voter strength will prevent untoward incidents, he says. “Anyway, the Assembly elections are not as difficult as the Corporation Council elections.” It is a sentiment that many experienced polling officials echo.

(*Some names have been changed on request)