NEW DELHI: The Election Commission
has recommended to the law ministry to amend election rules and make it mandatory for officers and staff on poll duty, including police personnel, to cast their vote at the voter facilitation centre set up for them. This would mean discontinuing the option, currently available to such personnel, of keeping the ballot paper with them for posting it later so that it reaches the returning officer by the 8amdeadline on counting day.
Dropping of the second option of sending postal ballot by the counting day would require an amendment to Rule 18 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961.
“The above proposal, if implemented, would minimise the potential misuse of keeping ballot paper by the voters on election duty for a long time with them, which is highly susceptible to undue influence, threats, bribery and other unethical means by candidates or political parties,” said an EC statement.
The decision to send a recommendation to this effect to the law ministry was taken by EC at a full Commission meeting on September 16.
It has been observed in the previous elections that the voters on election duty who are provided postal ballot do not cast their vote at voter facilitation center but take their postal ballot with them claiming that they have time to cast postal ballot till 8 am of the counting day, citing Section 60 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 along with Rule 18 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961.
EC pointed out that this leaves scope of ballot paper remaining with the personnel on poll duty, with there also being instances where some police personnel leave them with their superiors or with their respective unions, for long periods of time, particularly in a multi-phased election. For instance, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the first phase of poll was held on April 11 while the date of counting of votes was on May 23.
During the state assembly elections held in the last two years, in some states like Goa, Kerala and Manipur, over 50% of postal ballots were received by post from the election duty staff. In Uttarakhand, not even a single postal ballot was cast at the facilitation centre.
The standard policy of the Commission provides that the voters on election duty are deployed to a constituency other than his/her home constituency to manage and supervise polling at the allotted polling stations. Owing to this arrangement, they are not able to cast votes at their home polling station in person.
As per the current scheme, the voters on election duty apply for postal ballots to the returning officer concerned at the time of their training, who after due diligence, issues the postal ballots at the training centre and to enable such voters to cast their votes at the facilitation centre itself, before they are dispatched for the allotted polling stations, for election duty.