The DMK on Monday told the Madras High Court that the Election Commission of India (ECI), by permitting COVID-19 patients to vote through postal ballot, is putting election officials and others at risk of contracting the virus. It would be better if those patients not come to polling booths and not vote at all, the party said.
Appearing before the first Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy, senior counsel P. Wilson said there was no clarity on how election officials, videographers, police officers and politicians would visit hospitals and those in home quarantine, and how they would give and take back the postal ballot papers from those in quarantine. “Even in the Madras High Court, we have been keeping every paper filed in this court on quarantine for 24 hours before touching them. But when it comes to postal ballot, there’s no clarity on who will meet the patients in quarantine and obtain the postal votes. It is better that COVID-19 patients not come to the polling booths and not vote at all,” he told the Bench.
The arguments were made during the hearing of a case filed by the DMK challenging Section 60(c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which empowers the ECI to create a new class of voters such as ‘absentee voters’ and give the option of voting through postal ballot to those aged above 80 years, the physically challenged, those suffering from COVID-19, etc.
Mr. Wilson argued that enabling every voter to visit the polling booth and letting them feel independent and free for a few moments with the electronic voting machines (EVM) alone would ensure that the voter gets to exercise his/her franchise without any pressure. Such independence could not be expected while voting through postal ballot due to the possibility of influence from family and friends, he added.
There was absolutely no rationale behind the decisions taken by the ECI on categorising absentee voters, he said. Wondering on what basis it had arrived at a conclusion that voters aged above 80 years could be given the option of voting through postal ballot, the senior counsel asked: “Why didn’t it give a similar option to those suffering from cancer, blood pressure and diabetes?”
Earlier, senior counsel G. Rajagopal, representing the ECI, and Additional Solicitor-General R. Sankaranarayanan, representing the Centre, contended that the ECI was well within its powers to provide the option of voting through postal ballot to a select category of voters. They also said it was enough to take the decision after consulting the Centre and that there was no need to consult the State governments.