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EC readies for Bihar elections, could double up polling booths and expand remote voting

EC official says the election will happen according to schedule as of now and it will take place with all social distancing measures in place.

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New Delhi: The Election Commission of India (ECI) has started preparing for the Bihar elections, scheduled in October-November, and is contemplating ways to reduce crowding at polling booths — by increasing the number of such booths as well as expanding remote voting facilities, ThePrint has learnt.

According to a senior official in the EC, officials from the commission earlier this month discussed the poll preparedness of Bihar via video conference with the state chief electoral officer.

“The election will happen as per the schedule as of now. There is no reason to believe otherwise… All activity has started, so even the election can happen with adequate social distancing measures,” the official said. 

Among the possibilities being explored by the EC are doubling up of polling booths as well as enabling more remote voting, the official added.

Also read: Online voting may need to be explored due to coronavirus: Additional Solicitor General

Remote voting among vulnerable age groups

There are over 7.18 crore registered voters in Bihar, who would have under normal circumstances cast their votes at 72,000 polling stations. 

But now, one of the measures being discussed is to double up polling stations to 1.4 lakh to ensure social distancing in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

Another measure being discussed is to enable more remote voting among vulnerable age groups.

“Right now, those above the age of 80 are eligible to vote remotely… (but) In the face of Covid, we can lower down this age to ensure those who are vulnerable can vote remotely as well,” said the official quoted above. 

Last year, on the recommendation of the EC, the central government had amended the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, allowing senior citizens and people with disabilities in the ‘absentee voter’ list. 

‘Absentee voter’ refers to a voter who cannot physically come to the polling booth to cast vote, but does it via postal ballot.

Postal voting is a mechanism that enables a voter to cast a vote in a ballot paper instead of physically voting at a polling station.

In India, it is done through the EC’s Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot Papers (ETPB) system in which ballot papers are sent to the registered voters, who cast their votes and then send the papers to the EC by post.

“The challenge is to not only conduct elections on time, but also to ensure that the voter turnout remains high,” said another EC official. 

South Korea model

The EC has also studied the South Korea model extensively to understand how it successfully conducted national elections in April when the country had nearly 10,600 confirmed cases of Covid and more than 220 deaths.

In South Korea, all those on election duties were made to wear face protection shields, masks, and medical gloves. 

And for the voters, their temperatures was recorded, and those with fever were made to cast their votes in more secluded areas of polling stations.

Polling stations were also set up outside hospitals so that Covid patients could vote.

Also read: EC allows use of indelible ink to mark home quarantined, but lists two conditions


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