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Role of Election Commission if the Normal Polling Process is Disrupted

  • Context (IE): EC, under Sections 58(2) and 58A(2) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 (RPA), declared the polls void in some polling stations in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • India’s election laws provide a framework for handling situations where the normal polling process is disrupted for any reason, which includes
    1. Damage to EVMs,
    2. Booth-capturing,
    3. Natural disasters or
    4. A candidate’s death.
  • The provisions for repolls, adjournments, and poll voiding ensure that the democratic process remains fair, transparent, and uninterrupted.

Intentional destruction, taking away of EVMs

  • Under Section 58 of the RPA (Fresh poll in the case of destruction, etc., of ballot boxes), the EC can declare the poll at a polling station to be void if:
    1. An unauthorised person has unlawfully taken away any EVM;
    2. Any EVM has been accidentally or intentionally destroyed, lost, damaged, or tampered with, or
    3. A mechanical failure develops in any EVM during the recording of votes.

Booth Capturing

  • Booth-capturing, defined in Section135A of the RPA, includes all or any of the following activities by any person or persons:
    1. Seizure of a polling station, affecting the conduct of elections;
    2. Taking possession of a polling station, allowing only his or their supporters to vote;
    3. Intimidating or threatening any elector and preventing him from going to the polling station;
    4. Seizure of a counting place affecting the counting of votes;
    5. Involvement of any person in government service in any of the above activities.
  • Under Section 58A, if booth capturing occurs, the presiding officer closes the EVM control unit and detaches the ballot unit(s) as per Rule 49X.
  • The EC, based on the material facts, may
    1. Declare the poll at that polling station to be void and direct fresh polls on a new date or
    2. Countermand the election in the constituency in case booth capturing has taken place in a large number of polling stations.

Natural disasters, other disruptions to polling

  • The Presiding Officer of a polling station can adjourn the poll at a polling station under Section 57(1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, in case of:
    1. A natural calamity like a flood, a severe storm;
    2. Non-receipt or loss or damage to essential polling materials like EVM, electoral roll etc;
    3. Interruption or obstruction due to any riot or open violence;
    4. Non-arrival of the polling party due to obstruction or any other severe difficulty or
    5. The poll did not commence within two hours of the scheduled time due to a malfunctioning EVM or any other reason.
  • After seeking the EC’s approval on the date and hours, the adjourned poll will resume at the stage it was at immediately before the adjournment.

Death of a Candidate

  • As per Section 52 of RPA, amended in 1996, the poll shall be adjourned only in case of the death of a recognised political party’s candidate.
  • The above provision applies if the candidate with a valid nomination dies at any time after 11.00 a.m. on the last date for making nominations until the commencement of the poll.
    • The RO reports this fact to the EC and orders the poll to be adjourned to a date to be notified later by the Commission.
  • The political party must make the nomination within seven days.
  • However, if the candidate dies after voting, a by-election will be held if he emerges as the seat’s winner after counting.
  • A “recognised political party” can be either a national party or a state party reserved with a symbol by the EC.
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