All Himachal eyes on the postman

FP

Postal ballots account for over a lakh votes in Himachal Pradesh, a large enough section to make a difference in a state with a total electorate of 45.34 lakh. What makes it more significant than usual is that election authorities and parties expect higher participation from these voters this time because of the exceptionally long gap between normal polling (November 4) and counting (December 20).

Around 74,000 Army and Central paramilitary personnel are serving across India, while the state has another 43,061 services voters who include officials, police and home guards on election duty.

Election officials would not spell out how many defence and paramilitary voters have sent their postal ballots. This is because there have been complaints about candidates trying to track individual voters and their families. But of the service votes, 21,000 postal ballots, or nearly half, have already reached the district returning officers, who see it as quite an impressive turnout compared to what it was in most earlier elections. Data with the election department shows that the trend has been that only 25 to 30 per cent of all postal ballots would return.

"Since the gap between polling and counting is huge, these voters have found a lot more time to send their ballots," said chief electoral officer Narinder Chauhan. "In fact, it has even created a problem for poll officials, who need to ensure that these voters are not influenced or intimidated. Some complaints have already reached the Election Commission about a few candidates trying to track faujis."

Rajeev Bindal, a former BJP minister, has come under the EC's scanner for approaching a returning officer and later the office of the chief electoral officer seeking that more postal ballots be issued. As per norms, postal ballots cannot be issued after polling day.

The EC last week wrote to returning officers warning against accepting any request by a candidates for issuing fresh postal ballots. It has also asked returning officers to send daily updates to the CEO about the number of the postal ballots received.

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