No postal ballot as over 70 lakh electors in 65-plus age group in Bihar

Logistical challenges led to decision

Updated - July 20, 2020 08:44 pm IST

Published - July 20, 2020 08:32 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

The Election Commission of India office in New Delhi. File

The Election Commission of India office in New Delhi. File

With over 70 lakh electors above 65 years of age, the Election Commission of India (ECI) decided against extending postal ballots to them in the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections, for which 34,000 additional polling stations are being prepared in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the logistical challenges posed, an ECI source said.

The ECI had recommended extending the postal ballot facility to electors over 65 years as the age group had been termed most vulnerable to COVID-19 by the Union Health and Family Welfare and Home Ministries. Acting on the recommendation, the Law Ministry notified the change to the Conduct of Election Rues, 1961 on June 19, extending the postal ballot facility to electors above 65 years, as opposed to the existing provision for above 80 years, as well as COVID-19 patients and those suspected to have the coronavirus. Postal ballots had been extended to Persons with Disabilities (PwD) and electors over 80 years in November last year, ahead of the Jharkhand and Delhi elections.

Protocol constraints

On July 16, the ECI announced it would not be extending the postal ballot facility to electors of age 65 and above to the logistical, staff and safety protocol related constraints in the Bihar elections. While the option remains for the future, it would not be notified for the Bihar elections. The ECI source said that while reviewing the preparations for the Bihar polls, the Commission decided that it would not be possible to arrange the postal ballot facility for about 72 lakh electors, about 10% of the total 7.19 crore electors in the State.

The source added that the postal ballot facility for this category of electors is not the conventional postal service extended to service electors. The system works as a polling station on the move, with the polling staff visiting the homes of senior citizens and PwD, having them fill out their ballots, sealing them in envelopes and taking it back, the source said. Not only would additional staff and security be required, but candidates are entitled to send a representative with each such polling party, the source said.

More polling stations

Authorities in Bihar are already working on increasing the number of polling stations to 1.06 lakh in order to limit electors to 1,000 at each location. This would require 1.5 lakh additional polling personnel so extending postal ballots to all electors above 65 years would have been an administrative challenge, the source said.

The postal ballot facility had been extended to electors over 80 years, staff of the Delhi Metro and Northern Railways, and mediapersons covering the Delhi Assembly elections in February this year. However, only about 2,500 electors opted for the facility, the source said.

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