The Election Commission successfully held assembly polls in Bihar, one of India’s most populous states despite the COVID-19 pandemic and is now preparing to conduct polls in states and union territories as per schedule next year, its chief Sunil Arora said summing up 2020.
The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) pointed out that the exercise involved nearly 7.3 crore voters and over 1.06 lakh polling stations.
“We were able to conduct a COVID-safe election, with a voter turnout of 57.34 per cent, which was higher than the 56.8 per cent turnout recorded during the previous election in 2015,” Arora said.
This was also an election marked by enthusiastic participation of women voters, who outnumbered men at the polling booths, he said.
The facility of postal ballots was extended to citizens above the age of 80 years and persons with disability.
Besides this, the EC also conducted elections across several states for Rajya Sabha seats, and by-elections for nearly 60 legislative assembly constituencies, he observed.
“All this was made possible through the zeal, commitment and dedication of lakhs of officials, security personnel, civil society organisations and individuals, and the support of all stakeholders, including political parties, and above all, the voters themselves,” he said.
“As I have already mentioned, it was a leap of faith for the Commission, and not a leap in the dark,” Arora said, referring to the decision of holding polls as per schedule.
Some political parties had earlier urged the EC not to hold elections amid the pandemic.
Bihar assembly elections were the first full-fledged polls to be held amid coronavirus.
Over 4 crore of the total over 7 crore voters exercised their franchise.
To ensure distancing norms, the EC restricted the number of voters per polling station to 1,000 from 1,200.
This led to the increase in the number of polling stations.
Similarly, in West Bengal, where elections are due along with Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry next year, the number of polling stations would go up by nearly 28,000.
Details of other poll-bound states are being worked out.
In August, the poll panel had come out with broad guidelines to hold polls amid the coronavirus pandemic.
When the campaigning was in full swing, it issued an advisory for parties noting that COVID norms and health protocols were not being followed.
According to data made available by the Election Commission here and the office of the Chief Electoral Officer of Bihar, 156 cases were registered against “organisers” of rallies and meetings of various leaders and candidates for violating COVID-19 norms.
Cases were registered against organisers as they had sought permission to hold rallies or meetings in which following health guidelines was mandatory, explained an official.
Ahead of the three-phase elections, the poll panel had made it clear that violation of COVID-19 guidelines during election period would be deemed as a violation of section 144 of the CrPC.