Explainer: How the Election Commission Plans To Conduct Polls During the Pandemic

Putting to rest speculation that elections in Bihar and Bodoland may be postponed, the Commission has issued guidelines to hold during the COVID-19 crisis.

Jaipur: Putting speculations that the Bihar assembly and the Bodoland Territorial Council elections due this year could be postponed to rest, the Election Commission of India released guidelines for the conduct of polls during the coronavirus pandemic, following suggestions from various political parties.

While the dates for these elections have not been yet announced, the precautions and procedures listed by the commission suggest that it will proceed with the poll schedule.

According to and Indian Express report, out of the 15 political parties that gave their suggestions on conducting the polls amid COVID-19, only four – Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), National People’s Party (NPP) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – called for the postponement of elections.

The ruling party in Bihar, the Janata Dal (United), suggested that the assembly elections should be held in a single day.

The political parties, however, are against the idea of virtual campaigning. The Congress, Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) have requested the commission to permit door-to-door campaigning while limiting the size of the campaign squad.

While the Congress has opposed digital campaigning claiming that it could be used by the parties to evade the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) supported it. The saffron party also suggested that the additional expenditure on COVID-19 related precautions should either be exempted from a candidate’s expenditure limit or be charged to the party’s account. The party also suggested that the expenditure limit for a candidate should be increased.

The Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) proposed that elections in Bihar should be held through ballot papers instead of using EVMs, as many people using the same set of buttons could aggravate the risk of infection.

Some parties have suggested that postal ballots should be used instead of EVMs. Photo: PTI

How will the political parties conduct their campaign?

The ECI has allowed door-to-door campaigning, roadshows and rallies with precautionary measures.

For the door to door campaign, only a group of five persons, including the candidate, is allowed.

For roadshows, the convoy of vehicles is meant to be broken after every 5 vehicles instead of 10. An interval of half-an-hour should be kept between two sets of convoys.

For rallies, the guidelines say that the district election officer would identify dedicated grounds and put markers to ensure social distancing norms are followed by the attendees. The limit on the number of people who can attend a rally will be prescribed by the State Disaster Management Authority.

Political parties and candidates should shoulder the responsibility of ensuring people use face masks, sanitizers, while thermal scanning should also be done during the campaign-related activities.

The guidelines also highlight that upon non-compliance of these instructions, action may be taken as per the provisions of Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Representative image of a political rally with social distancing norms. Photo: PTI

What arrangements will be made at the polling station?

Each polling station will have mandatory sanitization, a day before the poll and a thermal scanner at every entry point, apart from the availability of soap, water, masks and sanitizer.

Voters whose temperature is above the limit prescribed the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and COVID-19 patients who are quarantined will only be allowed to vote during the last hour of polling.

For voters residing in areas notified as containment zones, guidelines will be issued separately, the Commission said.

Are there any changes in the nomination process?

The ECI has made affidavits and nomination forms available online, on the websites of the chief/district electoral officers.

However, the forms will have to be submitted offline, before the returning officer. For this, the Commission has directed that only two persons can accompany the candidate and only two vehicles could be used for this purpose.

The candidates also have the option to make security deposits online.