The Election Commission (EC) on Thursday reversed its decision to allow postal ballot to those above the age of 65 year ahead of Bihar elections due in few months. Last week, the government had allowed voting by post for senior citizen above the age of 65 and those infected with Covid-19 or suspected to be infected. This was done by amending the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
What is postal ballot and how is it used?
According to section 60 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, some people are allowed to cast their vote through Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot Paper (ETPB). The paper is sent to the voters within 24 hours of the last date of nomination withdrawal by the returning officer.
After filling the ETPB, the voter has to post the paper back to the Election office before the day of final counting.
Who can avail this facility?
As per the sub-section (8) of section 20 of Representation of People Act, 1950 following people can cast a vote by post.
- A member of armed forces of the Union.
- A member of a force to which the provisions of Army Act, 1950 are applicable.
- A member of Armed Police Forces of a state posted outside home state.
- A government employee who is serving outside India.
In case of a government employee serving outside India, the employee and the spouse are only allowed to cast their vote only by post.
- Special voters such as President, Vice President, Union Cabinet Ministers, and employees on poll duty can also cast their vote through post.
- Though prisoners are not given voting rights, people under preventive detention can also cast their vote through post.
- In October 2019, the facility was extended to people aged more than 80 years and disabled, through an amendment.
The current crisis
Due to the spread of Covid-19 pandemic, the government had last week extended the service of postal ballot to the people aged above 65 and those infected with coronavirus or suspected of having contracted the infection. It was decided after health ministry had put people above the age of 65 in high risk category. Though, the decision was reversed by the Election Commission on Thursday.
The decision has come after an objection by opposition parties Congress, CPI, CPI(M), Trinamool Congress and RJD. Though, the letter from Election Commission did not mention of the opposition’s concerns. After the amendment by the government, opposition parties had written letter to the EC showing their concern over how it could lead to unfair results as the voters will be vulnerable to those in power.
The Congress had argued that since people are uneducated, postal ballot will reveal their casted vote as they might need help from others to fill the postal ballot.
In the letter to EC the Congress added that this can expose people to “administrative influence or influence by the Government or the ruling party.”
TMC had called it an “arbitrary, malafide and unconstitutional” move.
The EC had earlier said that the decision was taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus during election process. The number of voters were also restricted to 1,000 per booth.