‘Those helping others to vote can’t be denied their right to exercise franchise’
Taking serious note of a complaint that many government officials on poll duty do not get to cast their postal votes properly due to paucity of time and other issues, the Madras High Court on Wednesday directed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to ensure that their reasonable request for exercising their franchise effectively was attended to as best as possible. The commission was also ordered to try and ensure that more than 90% of voters on poll duty get to vote through postal ballots.
Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy issued the directions while disposing of a public interest litigation petition filed by Tamil Nadu High-Higher Secondary Graduate Teachers Association. Senior counsel R. Viduthalai, assisted by V. Arun, said many officials, deputed to constituencies other than the one in which they reside, do not vote because the postal papers were given to them only during the silence period (48 hours before the actual day of polling).
Some poll officials find it difficult to get their postal votes attested by gazetted officers and so they end up submitting invalid votes without the attestation, he said. To correct such anomalies, which led to wasting of several thousand of votes during every election and to ensure that all officials get to vote properly, he insisted that the postal ballots should be given to them during the first training session itself. This way the voters on poll duty would have sufficient time to get them attested.
Finding force in his submissions, the judges ordered that the reasonable request of the petitioner association must be accepted as far as possible. The Bench also said that people who devote their time and energy, without receiving adequate honorarium and consider it their duty to help people vote, should not be denied their own fundamental right in a democracy. The Chief Justice commended the poll officials for braving difficult circumstances to make polling possible in rural, hilly and tribal areas.
Though the PIL petition was filed for letting all voters on poll duty, and not just those deputed within their constituencies, to vote through electronic voting machines (EVMs) in advance, ECI counsel Niranajan Rajagopalan reported to the court that it would not be possible to let anyone to vote through EVMs before the actual day of polling because the law does not provide for it. It was after this submission, the petitioner’s counsel insisted on providing enough time to cast votes through postal ballots.