COVID 19Hot Off The PressNews

Election Commission of India approved the broad guidelines for conduct of general/bye-elections during the COVID-19 period.

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) have been issuing guidelines from time to time.

In their latest circular dated 29-07-2020, MHA has issued comprehensive guidelines/directives to be followed countywide. Similarly, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has also issued SOP on disinfection, sanitization, and prevention for containing COVID-19.

Earlier, Commission, on 17-07-2020, had sought views/suggestions of National/State Political Parties till 31-07-2020 and had further extended the period टिल 11-08- 2020 on request of the Political parties. Commission has considered the views/suggestions received from various Political Parties and Chief Electoral Officers of States/UTs on the election campaign and public meetings.

Salient features of the guidelines include the following:

The Commission has revised the norms of number of persons accompanying the candidate and number of vehicles at the time of nomination. It has also created optional facility to fill the nomination form and the affidavit online and submission of the same, after taking print, before the RO concerned. For the first time, the candidates will have the option to deposit security amount for contesting the elections online. Keeping the containment guidelines in view, the Commission has limited the number of persons including candidate for door to door campaign to five. Public meeting and road shows shall be permissible with suitable instructions subject to containment instructions issued by the MHA/State. Face Mask, Sanitizer, Thermal scanners, gloves, face shield and PPE kits shall be used during the electoral process ensuring social distancing norms. Hand gloves shall be provided to all the electors for signing on the voter register and pressing button of EVM for voting.

The Chief Electoral Officers of concerned States/UTs, shall make comprehensive State/District & AC election plans regarding arrangement and preventive measures following these guidelines taking local conditions into account. These plans will be prepared in consultation with Nodal Officer for COVID-19 in their respective States/UTs.

Guidelines are available at https://eci.gov.in/files/file/12167-guidelines-for-conduct-of-general-electionbye-election-during-covid-19/


Election Commission

[Press Release dt. 21-08-2020]

Case BriefsForeign Courts

Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS): A majority opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Alito J, Gorsuch J. and Kavanaugh J. temporarily reversed a lower court order which had extended the deadline for a political action committee to gather signatures for a ballot initiative electronically.

The respondent is a political action committee which had tried to garner necessary votes for a ballot initiative, but had to halt the campaign for physical signatures in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Idaho law required “in-person collection of petition signatures,” but this law was not suspended to allow the respondent to collect signatures electronically, which it claimed resulted in a violation of its First Amendment rights guaranteeing the rights of assembly and petition to citizens. The District Court had allowed for an extension of deadlines, enabling the respondent to collect signatures electronically.

The conservative majority did not allow for a relaxation of voting-related restrictions and responsibilities in light of the pandemic, stating that “this is not a case about the right to vote, but about how items are placed on the ballot in the first place.” It found that First Amendment allowed for a scrutiny of the interests of the State whenever a citizen’s ability to place an initiative on the ballot was inhibited and observed that in the present matter, such “reasonable restrictions” are justified in combatting fraud and ensuring that initiatives lacking necessary votes do not clutter the ballot. Moreover, the majority opined that nothing in the Constitution required Idaho, or any other State for that matter, to provide for ballot initiatives. Considering that an extension in the deadline would exacerbate the strain on the State in terms of time and resources and increase the costs it would have to bear in verifying digital signatures, it granted the application for stay on the district court’s orders.

However, Sotomayor J, joined by Ginsburg J, dissented from the grant of stay, holding that a stay would put the respondents in a far more precarious situation than the applicant. The delay cause by the majority’s grant of stay would render the respondent’s First Amendment claims moot before any appellate court could consider its merits, and would make it impossible for them to collect the necessary signatures in time for the November ballot if their case prevails during appeal. Sotomayor J. criticized the majority’s decision for usurping the Court of Appeal’s responsibility to review the District Court’s decision, holding the Court responsible for forgetting that it is “a court of review, not of first view.” [Little v. Reclaim Idaho, 591__US (2020) No.20A18, decided on 30-07-2020]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Kerala High Court: Devan Ramachandran, J. allowed the writ petition to direct the Returning Officer (RO) to act in terms of the Circular issued by the State Police Chief, Kerala.

The petitioner filed the following writ petition because they apprehended disturbances in law and order situation during polling. In order to curb cases of large scale bogus voting, the petitioner pleaded the Court to direct the RO to seek police reinforcement and also videography the entire process, so that the process of election can be conducted in a fair and transparent manner. The petitioner also pleaded that the Court must direct the RO to prevent bogus voting by ensuring that the ballot paper is issued to the voters only on production of the identity cards and such other documents of proof as are mentioned in Rule 35(A)(6)(n)(ix) of the Kerala Cooperative Societies Rules (the KCS Rules).

The respondents contended that it was not necessary for the petitioner to have approached the Court because the RO would have followed the mandate as provided under the Circular. According to them, if there were to be any disturbances during voting, all necessary police reinforcements will be called for. If the petitioner is willing to pay, the Returning Officer will make arrangements for videography of the entire voting process, without in any manner compromising its secrecy. On the apprehension of the petitioner regarding bogus voting, the respondents submitted that all necessary steps will be taken by the RO. The petitioner even agreed to the terms set forth by the respondents.

The High Court too instructed the RO to comply with the Circular implicitly and to ensure that there are no cases of bogus voting by following the mandatory requirements under the KCS Act and Rules, including by insisting on the relevant identity proof. The RO was also asked to make immediate arrangements for videography of the entire electoral process, without compromising its secrecy in any manner. Voting must be completed in a free and fair manner by the said officer without any fault. Further the RO was asked to ensure that ballot papers are issued only as per Rule 35(A)(6)(n)(ix) of the KCS Rules and on the strength of the identity cards and other documents mentioned therein so that the allegation of bogus voting can be fully, if not substantially, allayed.[Vakathanam Service Co-Operative Bank v.  Inspector of Police, 2019 SCC OnLine Ker 2436, decided on 29-07-2019]