Election Commission announces COVID-19 safety measures for counting of votes on May 2

By Express News Service
CHENNAI: After facing the wrath of the Madras High Court for failing to enforce COVID-19 restrictions during the election campaign, the Election Commission on Wednesday issued detailed guidelines to be followed on May 2 during the counting of votes.

Candidates and poll agents will be allowed inside the counting centre only if they have taken both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine or have undergone an RT-PCR/RAT test. The commission has banned any ‘victory procession’ on vote counting day.

The Assembly elections for 234 constituencies in Tamil Nadu and Kanniyakumari Lok Sabha byelection were held on April 6. The vote counting will be conducted in 76 centres.

An official note of the commission listed the following COVID-19 safety protocols:

1. The District Electoral Officer shall be the Nodal Officer at each counting centre to ensure adherence to the COVID-19 norms with the assistance of the Nodal Health Officer.

2. A compliance certificate as per extant COVID guidelines shall be obtained from the concerned health authorities.

3. No candidates or agents will be allowed inside the counting hall without undergoing RT-PCR/RAT test or without having two doses of vaccination against COVID-19.

4. Those entering the counting centre will have to produce a negative RT-PCR report or RAT report or vaccination reports within 48 hours of the start of counting.

5. No public gathering outside the counting venue shall be allowed.

6. The counting hall should be sufficiently big to maintain social distancing and should have proper ventilation, windows, exhaust fan etc as per available protocol of SDMA.

7. The counting centres shall be disinfected before, during and after the counting.

8. Sealed outer boxes of EVM and VVPAT shall also be sanitized or disinfected.

9. Number of counting tables to be allowed in a counting hall as per the size of hall and keeping in view safety norms prescribed for COVID-19. Hence, counting of votes of a constituency may be considered at 3-4 halls by appointing additional Assistant Returning Officers.

10. At the entry of hall, room and premises, thermal scanning of all persons shall be carried out.

11. Sanitizer, soap and water shall be made available and every person entering the hall shall sanitize his/her hand.

12. No one having any symptoms of COVID-19 like fever, cold etc. shall be allowed to enter the counting hall.

13. Candidates may deploy or replace the counting agents in case the report is positive.

14. Social distancing shall be maintained inside the counting hall, seating arrangement of counting personnel and agents should be made as per extant COVID-19 guidelines.

15. There shall be sufficient number of PPE kits for counting agents and candidates. The counting agents sitting arrangement shall be made in such a way that between two counting agents one agent shall be in PPE.

16. The following items shall be provided to every counting official and security personnel in addition to other prescribed items:(I) Mask(II) Sanitiser(III) Face-Shield(IV) Gloves

17. For counting of postal ballots, additional numbers of AROs may be deputed. If required, postal ballots may also be counted in a separate hall under the supervision of the RO or AROs.

18. As per the government guidelines, there shall be proper arrangement of disposal of COVID related wastage viz mask, face shield, PPE kit, gloves etc.

19. No victory procession will be allowed

20. Not more than two persons shall be allowed to accompany the winning candidate or his / her authorized representative receives the certificate of election from the RO.

21. A detailed COVID-19 related comprehensive plan for counting arrangements will be prepared at the state level, taking local conditions into account. Three-layer plan will be prepared in consultation with the concerned Nodal Health Officers at constituency, district and state levels.