The Election Commission of India (ECI) has knocked on the doors of Union Ministry of Law and Justice once again. This time for an amendment to Rule 18 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. The letter to law ministry proposes that officers and staff as well as police personnel on election duty should be required to cast postal ballots only at facilitation centres.
The ECI is looking at the potential misuse of facility of postal ballot extended to voters on election duty. Till now, personnel on poll duty either cast postal ballots at facilitation centres or sent the postal ballots through post to the returning officer so that they reached him before the commencement of counting at 8 am on the counting day.
It has been observed that this practice leads to potential misuse as the ballot paper held by these voters on election duty is kept with them for a long time. This makes them highly susceptible to undue influence, threats, bribery, and other unethical means by candidates or political parties.
Sources in the Election Commission told India Today, "The idea behind the amendment came after it was observed that in previous elections, voters on election duty who are provided a postal ballot did not cast their vote at the Voter Facilitation Center but took their postal ballot with them, claiming that they had time to cast their ballot till 8 am of the counting day."
"If a person keeps the postal ballot with himself/herself, then there are chances of him/her coming under pressure, this needs to be taken care of," sources added.
These amendments, a spate of which have been initiated by CEC Rajiv Kumar, are in order to clean the election process.
The Commission, in its recent meeting, headed by Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar along with Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey, decided to send a recommendation to the Ministry of Law and Justice to ensure that voters on election duty cast their votes at the voter facilitation centre only.
During the state Assembly elections held in the last two years, in some states like Goa, Kerala, and Manipur, over 50 per cent 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.
CEC Rajiv Kumar is looking to clean the system with this amendment as data points towards the fact that officers haven't been casting postal ballots at facilitation centres.
The standard policy of the commission is that the officers on election duty are deployed to a constituency other than their 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 officers on election duty apply for postal ballots to the concerned Returning Officer at the time of their training, who, after due diligence, issues the postal ballots at the training centre during subsequent rounds of training and also sets up a facilitation centre to enable these officers on election duty to cast their votes at the facilitation centre itself before they are dispatched for the allotted polling stations for election duty.
The facilitation centre is equipped with all necessary arrangements for ensuring secret and transparent voting in the presence of candidates or their representatives.
However, they have also been given the option to send their postal ballot by post to the returning officer so as to reach the officer before the hour fixed for the commencement of counting (8 am) on the counting day.
Many of these voters keep postal ballots at their homes for a long time after performing poll duty, as general elections are normally held in a staggered manner in order to manage logistics and the requirements of forces.
Thus, ensuring voting at the Voter Facilitation Centre set up for voters on election duty would minimise the potential misuse of the postal ballot facility for free, fair, and transparent elections.