When the polling booth itself comes calling the voter at home

Special Polling Officers, attired in protective gear, along with an armed civil police officer, leave the Civil Station in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday to the residences of COVID-19 patients and those in quarantine to record their votes for the upcoming local body polls.   | Photo Credit: S. MAHINSHA

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Perhaps for the first time in an electoral process after the outbreak of COVID-19, the polling booth itself is coming to the houses of those who tested positive and those who have been in home quarantine. Over the past two days, Special Polling Officers (SPOs) attired in protective gear have been fanning out across wards where the first phase of the local body polls are scheduled on December 8 to record the votes of those who are forced to stay indoors due to the virus in special ballots.

For the SPOs and Special Polling Assistants (SPA), deployed from government departments, this is a novel experience, one in which they need to take a level of extra care, for their own safety.

The process

"We have been asked not to remain within the PPE (personal protective equipment) for more than five hours. So, we call the respective voters beforehand, fill in their forms and get the accurate directions to the house before we start our journey. Once we reach the house, the signatures are affixed on the papers and the ballot paper is handed over to them. They mark their votes, put it inside a ballot cover, seal it and drop it inside a large cover that we carry with us, to avoid any kind of contact with the voter. This large cover is then sealed and dropped in a box kept with the returning officer," says an SPO deployed here.

Those who require time

According to the officers, most of the voters have been sure about their votes and returned the ballots immediately. For those who require some more time to take their decision, there is the option of sending it by post, but it is not often encouraged as this entails breaking the quarantine.

Each team has an SPO, an SPA, and a police officer for their security cover and a driver. The teams were provided training for two days over the weekend. Still, on the first day of field visits on Monday, health officials were at hand to help them.

Covering 20 voters

"On the first day, we ended up working for close to seven hours as we were still getting used to this, but from the second day we were able to complete the assigned voters within five hours. On a given day, a team can reach around 20 voters. But there are cases where there are five voters in quarantine in a single house. All of the voters we have met till now have cooperated well," says a polling officer.

The SPOs visit the houses of those who have tested positive the previous day. The special votes can be cast by those who are tested or placed in quarantine till 3 p.m. on the day before polling. Those who test positive after 3 p.m. have the option of going to the polling booth directly, wearing a PPE, in the last hour of polling.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2021 4:59:34 PM |

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