Parties consulted on extending postal ballot to more categories: ECI

Published - July 01, 2020 10:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Election Commission of India in New Delhi. File

The Election Commission of India in New Delhi. File

The Election Commission of India said on Wednesday that political parties had been consulted on its decision to extend postal ballot to more categories of voters.

The poll panel was responding to Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury’s criticism that it was in a hurry to extend postal ballot to electors over the age of 65 years.

In a letter to the ECI on Monday, Mr. Yechury had raised concerns at the lack of consultation before the ECI decided to expand the postal ballot facility to electors over 65 and those infected with or suspected to have COVID-19 in the run-up to the Bihar Assembly elections.

Along with its response, the ECI sent Mr. Yechury the minutes of a meeting convened by the Bihar Chief Electoral Officer on June 26 that was attended by recognised political parties, including the CPI(M).

The Representation of the People Act, 1951 provides for any person to be given the postal facility by the ECI in consultation with the government, it said. The ECI had recommended that three categories of electors – those 80 years and above, persons with disabilities, and essential services workers – be given the postal ballot facility. This was notified by the government on October 22, 2019 and the ECI rolled it out as a pilot in seven constituencies in the Jharkhand Assembly elections last year.

“Details of this new mechanism were duly shared by the Chief Electoral Officer and the concerned District Election Officers with all the political parties and candidates concerned. 680 senior citizens and 1338 PwD electors used this facility. Subsequently, in the NCT of Delhi Legislative Assembly Elections in February 2020, this facility was extended in all 70 ACs. 2257 senior citizens, 429 PwD electors, and 19 electors of essential service availed this facility. Commission did not receive any concern on this from any stakeholder, including political parties,” it wrote.

With the country in a lockdown since March 25 and those above 65 years categorised as vulnerable in case of COVID-19 infection, the ECI decided to extend the postal ballot facility to them and those in home or institutional quarantine due to the virus.

“Commission considered these extraordinary situations and decided to recommend extension of postal ballot facilities to these identifiable categories to minimise their exposure in public and yet not deprive them of their voting rights,” it said.

Apart from asking the Bihar CEO to hold consultations with parties, the ECI also ordered that the number of electors in each polling station be limited to 1,000 and auxiliary polling stations created in the same location or vicinity to maintain social distancing norms.

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