New Delhi: From use of toothpicks for voting to wearing khadi gloves once inside a polling booth — the office of the Bihar chief electoral officer (CEO) has sent several proposals to the Election Commission of India to ensure voters adhere to Covid-19 norms in the state assembly elections due in October-November.
State CEO R. Srinivasa told ThePrint that there “are several proposals under consideration of the EC right now to hold the elections” in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There are at least three places inside the polling booth where physical contact could happen with voters,” Srinivasa said. “First, when the voter signs or puts their thumb impression in the voter register; second, when the indelible ink is put on their finger; and third, when the voter casts their vote…We have sent proposals to minimise contact in all these areas,” he added.
The Bihar State Election Commission is in talks with the Bihar State Khadi Board to provide Khadi gloves for all electors in the state. While there are about 7.18 crore voters in the state, the EC has allowed postal ballot voting for those above 65 years of age, and those who are under institutional or home quarantine.
State will require 45% more polling booths
The assembly elections will also require 45 per cent more polling booths, as compared to the 2015 assembly polls, to ensure social distancing norms during voting, Srinivasa said.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had earlier told ThePrint that Bihar has 72,723 polling stations to cater to the approximately 7.18 crore electors.
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In all, Srinivasa said, the state will now require 1.06 lakh polling booths for the elections. “According to our assessment, we need 45 per cent extra polling booths this time…That means we require 1.06 lakh polling booths,” he said.
The EC might also need extra polling staff since each booth needs four polling personnel, he added.
Held meeting with all political parties on virtual campaigning: CEO
On the contentious issue of virtual campaigning, Srinivasa said he had held a meeting with representatives of all political parties in Bihar to gather their views. “Their views were taken in writing, and compiled and sent to the ECI,” he said.
“There are some parties which are opposed to virtual campaigning… They said parties should stick to traditional modes of campaigning since not everyone has access to digital technology,” he added. “By that they meant that physical distancing is followed in traditional campaigns — spots are marked for people to sit, distance is maintained, etc.”
Earlier, there were reports that opposition parties like the RJD, Congress, and the Left parties communicated to the EC in Bihar that the concept of virtual campaigning “is socially and economically discriminatory” and violates the principle of ensuring a level-playing field in elections. But the ruling BJP and JDU have thrown their weight behind the idea.
Asked if the EC is in favour of virtual campaigning, Srinivasa said, “We were simply soliciting the views of parties…There is no formal proposal.”
Arguing that such areas are not in the domain of the EC, Srinivasa said, “The NDMA is still in place, the protocols prohibiting public gatherings are still in place…These are not in the domain of election (Commission).”
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