The Election Commission of India on Friday issued new guidelines for the conduct of general elections and by-elections during the coronavirus pandemic. Voters will be provided gloves to press the button of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) and coronavirus patients in quarantine will be allowed to vote at the last hour of the polling day, according to the broad guidelines. The gloves will most likely be disposable.
Bihar will be the first state where assembly elections will be held amid the pandemic. The polls are likely to be held sometime in October-November and the schedule is likely to be announced by September 20, sources told News18.
Candidates can file nomination papers online and people will be required to wear face masks during election-related activities.
The EC said a separate set of guidelines would be issued for voters who are residing in areas notified as "containment zone".
The EC has recommended mandatory sanitisation of polling stations, preferably a day before the polls. Thermal scanners would be placed at the entry point of every polling station. Polling or paramedical staff will conduct thermal screening of voters at the entry point of a polling station, it said.
"There shall be maximum 1,000 electors instead of 1,500 electors in a polling station," the guidelines said.
A group of five people, including candidates but excluding security personnel, is allowed to take part in door-to-door campaigning. For roadshows, convoys of vehicles should be broken after every five vehicles instead of 10 (excluding security vehicles). Public gatherings and rallies can be held subject to adherence to COVID-19 guidelines.
The district election officer should identify in advance dedicated grounds for public gatherings with clearly marked entry and exit points. In all such identified grounds, the district election officer should put markers in advance to ensure social distancing norms are followed by the attendees.
The district election officer and district superintendent of police should ensure that the number of attendees does not exceed the limit prescribed by the State Disaster Management Authority for public gatherings, the commission said.
"The option of postal ballot facility has been extended to the electors who are marked as 'persons with disabilities', people above age of 80 years, people employed in notified essential services and who are COVID-19 positive/possibly infected," the EC said in the guidelines.
The EC has revised the norms of the number of people accompanying the candidate and number of vehicles at the time of nomination. It has also created optional facility to fill the nomination form and the affidavit online and submission of the same, after taking print, before the RO concerned.
For the first time, the candidates will have the option to deposit security amount for contesting the elections online.
Face mask, sanitiser, thermal scanners, gloves, face shield and PPE kits will be used during the electoral process ensuring social distancing norms. Hand gloves will be provided to all electors for signing on the voter register and pressing button of EVM for voting.
(With inputs from PTI)