Kerala Elections: Postal voting row erupts after allegations of ballots collected in unsealed boxes

Reportedly, ballots were collected from essential service staff in unsealed boxes in Ernakulam and Kannur on Sunday. There were also reports that the sealed boxes were missing from some places
Representational Image
Representational Image

Following the double voting controversy, a row over postal ballots has erupted as the three-day voting for essential service staff began ahead of the Kerala Assembly elections.

The Election Commission (EC) has given postal ballots to people over 80 years of age, Covid-19 positive patients, polling officials and essential service staff. According to reports, polling officials collected the postal ballots from essential service staff in unsealed boxes in Ernakulam and Kannur districts on Sunday. There were reports that the sealed boxes were missing from several centres.

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala had earlier lodged a complaint with Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena that the election officers should use sealed boxes to collect postal ballots. There are chances of tampering with votes if the election ballots are not collected in sealed boxes. During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Kerala Police conducted a probe that found large scale rigging of postal votes belonging to police officers. Keeping in mind what happened in 2019, the Chief Electoral Officer said that there would be strict monitoring to check the rigging of postal votes of police officers in the Kerala Assembly polls.

The Election Commission (EC) has provided postal ballots for essential service staff as they cannot cast their votes on April 6 due to election duty. The voting, which began on Sunday, is taking place in 14 districts and will end on March 30 at 5 pm. Special booths were set up to facilitate voting for such staff. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the EC provided postal ballots service to people over 80 years of age, differently-abled, quarantined patients and Covid-19 positive patients. The postal voting for the above-mentioned groups began on Friday.

Meanwhile, a report pointing out that there are glitches in the web portal while adding names to the voters’ list has resulted in some having double votes. Bogus votes and double votes have been a major issue ahead of the Kerala Assembly elections. The Leader of Opposition was the first to bring to the Election Commission's attention that many people have double votes. The Kerala Chief Electoral Officer confirmed Chennithala’s claim on bogus voting and double votes.

The senior Congress leader filed a petition in the Kerala High Court on rigged voting. In their interim order, the Kerala HC ordered the Election Commission to take the necessary steps to ensure that those with two votes are allowed to vote only once. Chennithala pointed out in his petition that despite repeated complaints on bogus voting, the Commission has taken no action. EC had conveyed their difficulties to Chennithala in removing bogus votes from the voters' list. The opposition leader demanded that the EC should freeze double votes.

During a rally, Chennithala said that the opposition has so far found four lakh bogus voters in the electoral rolls and has provided the details to the Election Commission. He demanded that the names of those falsely included on the list be deleted so that only genuine voters could exercise their franchise.

Chennithala alleged that officials affiliated with the ruling CPM were facilitating bogus voting, a charge that has been vehemently denied by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

“Four lakh bogus voters have entered the voters’ list when the difference of votes between the LDF and the UDF in an election is just between one lakh and two lakh,” Chennithala said. He added that such irregularities were rampant in Kasaragod and Kannur districts where polling booths are virtually controlled by the ruling party.

While some had claimed that Ramesh’s claims were mere allegations, the Chief Electoral Officer submitted that these were indeed true.

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