Kerala govt issues ordinance to extend voting time of local body polls, proxy votes

Kerala govt issues ordinance to extend voting time of local body polls, proxy votes
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Thiruvananthapuram: The Kerala cabinet has recommended to the Governor on bringing in ordinances to extend the timing for the local body polls, and provide postal ballot facilities for COVID-19 patients and bedridden people.

The poll timings from 7am to 5pm would be extended by one hour to 6pm. Once the Governor gives the assent, the Panchayat Raj and Municipal Acts would be amended.

The State Election Commission will decide on what facilities should be provided for those who test positive in the days leading up to the election.

Setting up of special polling booths are also under consideration.

But the postal ballot facility is unlikely to be extended for people above the age of 65, who are in reverse quarantine. Even the Election Commission of India has not put forth such a proposal. As the number of elderly people is high in Kerala, postal voting is not feasible.

However, the Election Commission has proposed that postal ballot or proxy voting can be considered for COVID patients and those in quarantine.

Proxy voting allows close relatives to cast votes on the behalf of the voter.

The all-party meet, held last week, had reached a consensus on postponing the local body elections, and this has been submitted to the State Election Commission.

The Commission is likely to consider this while declaring the poll dates.

The Election Commission has called for a meet of the political parties on Friday (September 18).

When asked about the risk in holding an election at a time when the number of cases is rising, the official said that democratic institutions have to function even amid calamities. "There is an element of risk, but all of us are trying our best to mitigate the possible risk factors," an official told The Week.

The cabinet also decided to re-promulgate at least 23 ordinances which had lapsed.

Kerala is also set to see byelections conducted in two assembly constituencies – Kuttanad and Chavara – before November 29. The two byelections in Kerala have already breached the Constitutional deadline.

The Kuttanad seat fell vacant with the death of Thomas Chandy on December 20, 2019. Chavara MLA Vijayan Pillai died on March 8 this year. In both cases, the byelections will be held six months after the deaths. By law, the EC has to conduct a byelection within six months of a seat falling vacant.

The Chief Election Officer (CEO) Teeka Ram Meena said the Election Commission was going by the book. "As per the Constitutional requirement, they have to hold the byelections. They cannot cancel the polls without any reason. Two times they said elections could not be held because of COVID. Now detailed guidelines have been issued and we have to follow it," the CEO said.

Usually, one polling booth is for 1500 voters. Now for social distancing purposes, the EC has said only 1000 could be accommodated in one.

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