Noting that the coronavirus pandemic presented a unique challenge for the poll panel in holding safe elections, Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra on Saturday said various facilities were extended to COVID-19 patients to cast their vote in the Bihar assembly polls, including postal ballot facility and extension of polling time. He said the Election Commission cannot remain "silent" to situations where persons suffering from COVID-19 are unable to exercise their democratic right.
"This time, besides senior citizens and women, we had to make additional arrangements for COVID patients… We extended polling time by one hour," he said addressing an event. Chandra said though postal ballot facility was extended, any person wanting to cast vote at the polling station was free to do so.
"Our polling officials were fully equipped with PPE kits and other measures to handle the situation," he said. Many people suffering from COVID-19 came to cast their votes in all the three phases on October 28, November 3 and November 7 (Saturday).
"We cannot remain silent, we cannot remain spectators that a person suffering from COVID … and he be deprived of casting vote. That is the basic theme of EC," he said. Chandra said the voter turnout in the first two phases has dispelled all fears and doubts, adding the voters of Bihar have defeated the fear of virus as they came out in large numbers.
In its broad guidelines issued in August for holding polls amid the pandemic, the poll panel extended the option of postal ballot for electors who are marked as persons with disabilities and those above 80 years. Electors who are COVID-19 positive or are suspected of having the infection and in quarantine at home or at an institution were also allowed to exercise the postal ballot option. An official explained that this postal ballot facility is different from the one extended to service voters. Here, those willing to use the facility have to fill up a form. Officials then carry the ballot to the residence of such voters and videograph the voting to ensure transparency.
"COVID-19 patients who are quarantined will be allowed to cast their vote at the last hour of the poll day at their respective polling stations, under the supervision of health authorities… Sector magistrates shall coordinate this in their allocated polling stations," the guidelines said.