No Postal Ballots for Above 65 in Bihar

Recently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has decided against extending postal ballots to electors above 65 years of age in the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections due to logistical challenges.

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Background:

  • Earlier in June 2020, the Law Ministry, on the recommendation of ECI, had extended the postal ballot facility to electors over 65 years (being most vulnerable to Covid-19), Covid-19 patients and those suspected to have it by notifying a change to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
    • Earlier, postal ballots were extended to Persons with Disabilities (PwD) and electors over 80 years in November 2019 ahead of the Jharkhand and Delhi elections.

  • Working Mechanism:

    • The postal ballot facility for electors above 65 years is different from the conventional postal service.

      • Usually, ballot papers are distributed electronically to electors and are returned to the election officers via post.
    • For above 65 and Covid-19 patients, it works as a polling station on the move, with the polling staff visiting the homes of such electors, having them fill out their ballots, sealing them in envelopes and taking it back.

      • It was done to minimize vulnerability and exposure at the polling stations for above 65 and to not deprive the Covid-19 patients and people under quarantine of their voting rights.

  • Challenges:

    • After reviewing the preparations for the Bihar polls, the ECI has made this decision keeping in mind the logistical, staff and safety protocol related constraints.
    • For collecting votes of so many electors, additional staff and security will be required and would not be possible to arrange the facility for about 72 lakh electors, about 10% of the total 7.19 crore electors in the state.
    • State authorities are already preparing 34,000 additional polling stations in order to limit electors to 1,000 at each location. It also requires additional polling personnel which is an administrative challenge in itself.

Postal Ballots System

  • Ballot papers are distributed electronically to electors and are returned to the election officers via post.
  • Currently, only the following voters are allowed to cast their votes through postal ballot:
    • Service voters (armed forces, the armed police force of a state and government servants posted abroad).
    • Voters on election duty.
    • Voters above 80 years of age or Persons with Disabilities (PwD).
    • Voters under preventive detention.
  • The exception to the above-mentioned category of voters is provided under Section 60 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

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