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Home / India News / In EC’s plan, toothpicks to use EVMs

In EC’s plan, toothpicks to use EVMs

india Updated: Jul 01, 2020 00:35 IST
Hindustantimes

PATNA: With an eye on the safety of voters during the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the Election Commission (EC) is working on proposals to provide gloves and small sticks of the size of toothpicks to voters to press the button on electronic voting machines (EVMs) for contactless voting, officials at the state’s Chief Electoral Office said.

Another proposal under consideration for maintaining safety at the polling stations is the use of disposable syringes to mark the fingers of voters with indelible ink to identify those who have already voted, the officials said. A move to install glass shields at the table of polling officers is being contemplated so that voters, when asked to identify themselves by taking off their face masks, do not come in contact with the staff.

Bihar assembly polls are scheduled to be held in October-November in the first full-fledged state elections in the aftermath of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The elections are looming as a major test of the poll watchdog’s ability to ensure the safety of voters and polling staff from infection by the coronavirus disease.

The state election office officials said the idea of applying indelible ink through disposable syringes was being considered as a safe option; the syringes can be disposed of after one use. Glass shields to keep polling officers apart from voters is required to minimise the chances of anyone catching the infection.

“Even gloves and bamboo-made small sticks are being advocated for use of EVMs to press the buttons and signing the voter register as it will help in contactless voting. Sanitising the EVMs after every vote is not possible. We are not using any plastic-made items because there is scope of infection in it. Bamboo-made sticks are environment-friendly and disposable also,” said a senior Bihar EC officer, requesting anonymity because he is not authorised o speak on record to the media.

State election officials said the proposals have been sent by the Chief Electoral Officer, Bihar, H R Srinivasa, to the Election Commission for approval. “We have sent a few proposals for safety of voters at the booths. We are working on it. Our objective is that voters do not come much in contact with any physical substance and there is more contactless method of casting votes during the polls,” said Srinivasa.

To be sure, the implementation of the new innovative measures at the polling booths in times of Covid-19, when economic activity hs declined, would not be easy. It would mean procuring millions of gloves and bamboo sticks as well as disposal syringes. The state has a total electorate of 71.8 million voters; the proposal is 106,000 polling booths with the addition of 33,797 auxillary booths to cap the number of voters in each booth to 700 for maintaining social distancing norms.

The state EC officials said the process had started for procuring these materials on a priority basis. “We have sought khadi gloves from the Bihar State Khadi board so that it can generate rural employment. Other materials would be purchased locally and district election officers will be authorised to buy them,” said another EC officer, who is privy to the discussion, requesting anonymity.

State political parties are divided on the measured proposed by the electoral office. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (United) said they would support any measure suggested by the EC to ensure the safety of voters. The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal said any such moves would infringe on the rights of voters and defeat the purpose of elections.

“If EC takes any steps for safety of voters in view of Covid, we will support {the steps}. But our thinking is that all steps of safety to be taken by the poll panel should be widely publicised as our larger objective is that there should be 100 % voting and all voters should exercise their franchise freely,” said Nikhil Anand, state spokesperson of the BJP.

JD(U) state spokesperson Rajeev Ranjan said the party would support steps that the poll panel takes for the safety of voters . “We are in favour of safety measures for voters,” he said.

RJD’s senior leader and state spokesperson Shakti Singh Yadav criticised the proposals. “ In the name of Covid, there is an attempt being made to manipulate the polls. We will oppose any such moves of EC to provide gloves or sticks for use of the EVMs. We want the EC to conduct polls as they did in past. Even in South Korea, elections were held in Covid pandemic by using ballot papers,” he said.

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