Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Karnataka is set for elections to four Legislative Council seats and byelections to Rajarajeshwarinagar and Sira Assembly constituencies. While the Election Commission is making arrangements, there have been misgivings in political circles about the conduct of elections during these testing times. In an interview, Chief Electoral Officer Sanjiv Kumar explained the precautions being put in place and said that it is a “challenging task to conduct elections keeping everyone safe”. Excerpts:
What measures are being initiated by the Election Commission amid the pandemic?
Apart from having thermal scanners and sanitisers at every booth, we are identifying bigger rooms that have enough natural light and air to have polling stations. EVMs and VVPAT units will be sanitised. The number of voters in each polling booth has been reduced from 1,500 earlier to 1,000 now to limit crowding.
Will there be new systems in place?
Low-cost pens that can be discarded after single use will be used in the Council elections as ballot papers are still used. In the byelections, a small rubber cover for the finger to be used to press the EVM button will be distributed. All these to reduce contact spreading of the pandemic. For the first time, a nodal health officer has been appointed to coordinate between the EC and the State Disaster Management Authority.
How will a COVID-19 positive vote?
The last one hour of voting will be reserved for COVID-19 positives and those suspected to have the infection. Tokens will be issued if a person is found to have above normal temperature during the thermal scanning and they can vote in this hour. Polling officials will wear the personal protection equipment (PPE). Additionally, in the byelections, persons with disabilities, those aged above 80 and COVID-19 positives have been given the provision to exercise postal ballot, provided they register within five days after the notification is issued.
How will political party workers be monitored for COVID-19 safety?
The number of vehicles in a convoy has been reduced from 10 to five. Election meetings should adhere to State and EC guidelines. For outdoor political rallies, officials will mark the places for people to stand by maintaining distance. Online nomination facility has been extended.
Has the cost of conducting elections gone up owing to various measures?
The election cost is likely to be 50% more than the average cost. On average, about ₹2 crore was spent on each constituency in 2018. The cost has increased as there will be more polling booths, more rooms for counting votes as there will be only seven counting tables per room, more people to conduct elections, more vehicles, and additional expenditure on the PPEs, among others.
Despite these efforts do you expect a good turnout of voters?
This is an unexplored area and depends on the political mobilisation. We are expecting normal voting.