Voting rules changed
In a significant decision ahead of the Bihar Assembly elections, the Election Commission of India on 2 July 2020 said that people aged above 65 years as well as patients and suspects of Covid-19 will now be eligible to vote through postal ballot. The amendment in the rules was notified in a gazette notification issued by the Ministry of Law and Justice. As per the notification, people who are under home or institutional quarantine due to coronavirus infection can exercise their voting rights through postal ballot.
- Notification for Conduct of Elections (Amendment) Rules 2020 – for extending Postal Ballot Facility for electors above the age of 65yrs & Covid+ve under home/institutional quarantined, Election Commission of India said.
- The development comes ahead of elections in Bihar scheduled to be held in October-November this year. There had been speculation that the polls may be deferred due to the coronavirus crisis that has gripped the country.
- However, the recent move to facilitate postal ballot for elderly and Covid-19 patients indicates that the poll panel may not defer the polls after all.
- The changes announced by the Law ministry, after consultations with the ECI, have been brought through amending the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951.
- Following the amendments, the facility of postal ballot, which was earlier extended to “persons with disability” shall also include “COVID 19 suspect or affected persons”. Also, the eligibility for voting through postal ballot, which was earlier set at 80 years has now been substituted with 65 years.
- The notification also clearly defines the meaning of “COVID 19 suspect or affected persons”.
- As per the notification, this term will cover electors who have been tested as COVID 19 by the government hospital or a hospital recognised by the government as a COVID 19 hospital, or under home or institutional quarantine due to COVID 19 after being certified by a competent authority as notified by the state government or the UT administration.
- According to reports and data available thus far, people over 60 years of age are vulnerable to coronavirus and are advised to maintain social distancing.
- It is in this backdrop the government has decided to allow this section to vote without stepping out of their homes.
- The decision to extend the postal ballot facility assumes significance for Bihar, which has so far reported over 10,000 coronavirus cases and 78 deaths due to Covid-19.