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In EC’s plan, toothpicks to use EVMs

July 01, 2020 06:42 AM

In EC’s plan, toothpicks to use EVMs
Anirban Guha Roy

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 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 considered so that voters, when asked to identify themselves by taking off their masks, do not come in contact with the staff.

Bihar assembly polls are scheduled to be held in October-November is the first full-fledged state elections in the aftermath of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Gloves and small bamboo sticks are being advocated for pressing EVM buttons and signing the voter register. Sanitising the EVMs after every vote is not possible. We are not using any plastic-made items because there is scope of infection spreading. Bamboo sticks are environment-friendly and disposable,” said a senior Bihar EC officer, requesting anonymity.

State election officials said the proposals have been sent by chief electoral officer HR Srinivasa to the Election Commission for approval.

“Our objective is that voters do not come in contact with any physical substance and there is more contactless method of casting votes,” said Srinivasa.

The implementation of the new innovative measures at the polling booths in times of Covid-19 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. “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.

The ruling 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 such measures would infringe on the rights of voters.

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

JD(U) state spokesperson Rajeev Ranjan said, “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 polls. We will oppose any move by the EC to provide gloves or sticks for use on EVMs. We want the EC to conduct polls as they did in past. Even in South Korea, polls were held in recently by using ballot papers,” he said.

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