NEW DELHI :
In a move that will allow more absentee voters to exercise their franchise, the Election Commission on Thursday made public a notification by the ministry of law and justice that now allows those above 65 years of age or those affected by or suspected to have covid-19 to use the postal ballot facility to cast their votes.
This is significant not only because it comes against the backdrop of the coronavirus infections increasing in the country, prompting the imposition of stricter social distancing norms, but also as it could encourage more senior citizens to cast their votes without having to got to polling booths.
The provision is likely to come into effect during the Bihar assembly elections.
The gazette notification dated 19 June, made public by the spokesperson of the poll panel, Sheyphali Sharan, on Twitter on Thursday, details the changes to the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, under Conduct of Elections (Amendment) Rules, 2020. These include the earlier age of 80 years for using postal ballot being revised to 65 years and the addition of “covid-19 suspect or affected persons" as one condition enabling the use of postal ballot.
The notification defines “covid-19 suspect or affected persons" as electors who have been found to be covid-19 positive either by a government hospital or a designated covid-19 hospital. It also includes those who are under home quarantine or institutional quarantine because of covid-19, in line with the norms laid down by the government.
Until late last year, the provision of voting through postal ballot was available to armed forces personnel and those assigned poll duty.
In October, however, the Union government accepted the poll panel’s recommendation and the law ministry made amendments by allowing voters who are 80 years of age and above or those with disabilities to use postal ballot for voting during parliamentary and assembly elections. The assembly elections to Bihar’s neighbouring state, Jharkhand, held in November-December, were the first that saw the provision being implemented.