postal-ballots-and-controversy-around-it

Context: The Election Commission has announced that it will allow those above the age of 65 as well as those under home or institutional quarantine to vote using postal ballots during the Bihar elections.

Salient features of these amendments are as follows:

  1. A concept of ‘absentee voter’ has been introduced and defined for the elections.
  2. Person with disability means a person flagged as person with disability in the database for the electoral roll.
  3. Senior citizen means an elector belonging to the class of absentee voters and is above 80 years of age.
  4. Senior citizens above the age of 65 and voters who test positive for COVID19 or are suspected to be COVID-affected were allowed to cast their vote by post.

What is postal voting?

  • A restricted set of voters can exercise postal voting. Through this facility, a voter can cast her vote remotely by recording her preference on the ballot paper and sending it back to the election officer before counting.

Eligibility: 

  • Members of the armed forces like the Army, Navy and Air Force; members of the armed police force of a state (serving outside the state); government employees posted outside India and their spouses are entitled to vote only by post.
    • In other words, they can’t vote in person. 
  • Voters under preventive detention can also vote only by post.
  • Special voters: Such as the President of India, Vice President, Governors, Union Cabinet ministers, Speaker of the House and government officers on poll duty have the option to vote by post. But they have to apply through a prescribed form to avail this facility.

Absentee voters: 

  • The Law Ministry, at the Election Commission’s behest, introduced a new category of ‘absentee voters’, who can now also opt for postal voting.
  • These are voters employed in essential services and unable to cast their vote due to their service conditions. Currently, officials of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, Northern Railway (Passenger and Freight) Services and media persons are notified as absentee voters.

How are votes recorded by post?

  • The Returning Officer is supposed to print ballot papers within 24 hours of the last date of nomination withdrawal and dispatch them within a day.
  • Ballot papers reach the concerned voter well before the polling date and she has enough time to send it back before the counting day.
  • Postal ballot papers for members of the Armed Forces are sent through their record offices. 
  • Post or electronically: For members of the armed police force of a state (serving outside the state), government employees posted outside India and their spouses ballot papers can be delivered electronically.
    • Remaining categories: Ballot papers can be delivered personally or through post.

How does it work?

  • After receiving a postal ballot,  the voter can mark her preference with a tick mark or cross mark against the candidate’s name. 
  • They also have to fill up a duly attested declaration to the effect that they have marked the ballot paper. 
  • The ballot paper and the declaration are then placed in a sealed cover and sent back to the Returning Officer before the time fixed for the commencement of counting of votes.

Objection of this move by political parties:

  • Few political parties have objected to the ECI’s decision to allow voters aged 65 and above and those infected or suspected to be infected with COVID19 to vote via postal ballots.
  • Grounds for objection: Arbitrary, malafide, unconstitutional and move against free and fair elections.
  • It may lead to malpractices and foul play by those parties which are in power and having resources.
  • It may expose them to administrative influence or influence by the Government or the ruling party.

 

Absentee voter means a person belonging to such class of persons as may be notified, under section 60 of the Act, and who is employed in essential services as mentioned in the said notification, and includes an elector belonging to the class of senior citizen or persons with disability.

  • In case of an absentee voter, the application shall be made in Form 12D, and shall contain such particulars as specified therein, and shall be duly verified by the Nodal Officer and shall reach the Returning Officer within five days following the date of notification of election.
  • In the case of absentee voters, postal ballot papers shall be returned to the centre provided for recording of vote, subject to any direction that may be issued by the Election Commission on this behalf.

Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/postal-ballots-political-controversy-explained-6495861/

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