The Election Commission (EC) has decided not to extend the facility of postal ballot to electors above 65 years of age in the Assembly elections in Bihar and by-elections due in the near future, said the law body's officials on Thursday.
However, the EC in a statement said the facility of optional postal ballot to electors who are above 80 years of age, voters with physical disabilities, electors engaged in essential services and voters who are COVID-19 positive or are in quarantine (home or institutional) will be extended in these elections.
Earlier this month, the Bihar State Election Commission had said that coronavirus patients and those above the age of 65 will be allowed to vote from home or use postal ballot in the elections scheduled for later this year.
However, the EC said that this will not be possible in view of "constraints of logistics, manpower and safety protocols of Covid-19 in view of the pandemic".
Some opposition parties, including the Congress, CPI(M), CPI and the RJD, had recently questioned extending the postal ballot facility to voters aged 65 years and above, claiming the decision was taken without consultations. They had also alleged that it could lead to manipulation of such votes and vitiate the polling process.
Last October, the Law Ministry amended the Conduct of Election Rules to allow people with disabilities and those who are 80 years of age or above to opt for postal ballot during the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
On June 19, the ministry had cleared a fresh change in the rules, allowing those aged 65 years and above to opt for postal ballot. While amending the rules on the suggestions of the Election Commission, the ministry also allowed "COVID-19 suspected or affected persons" to use the postal ballot facility.
"However, before implementing this enabling provision, due notification is issued by the commission, under section 60(c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 at the time of election," an EC statement said.
The ECI has decided against issuing the notification relating to voters who are 65 years or above.
The statement said the Commission has already limited the number of electors to one thousand for each polling station for ease of voting, especially for elderly and vulnerable sections of electors, in the COVID-19 situation. In view of this, the state is creating additional 34,000 (approximately) polling stations which is 45% more, and will increase the total number of polling stations to around 1,06,000.
"This would entail formidable logistical challenges of mobilising 1.8 lakh more polling personnel and other additional resources including requirement of much larger number of vehicles in the state of Bihar," the Commission pointed out. Similar challenges would be there for the coming by-elections also, it said.
"Considering all these issues, challenges and constraints and in view of the decision to limit the number of electors at each polling station to 1,000, Commission has decided not to issue the notification to extend the facility of postal ballot to the electors above 65 years of age in the coming General Elections in Bihar and by-elections due in the near future," it said.
However, the facility of optional postal ballot to electors who are above 80 years of age, disabled voters, the electors engaged in essential services and voters who are COVID-19 positive/suspect in quarantine (home/institutional) will be extended in these elections, the poll panel made it clear.
An official explained that this postal ballot facility is different from the one extended to service voters. Here, those willing to use the facility have to fill up a form. Officials then carry the ballot to the residence of such voters and videograph the voting to ensure transparency.
"This means additional personnel," said the official.
(With inputs from PTI)