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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A vote for snail mail

In these times of Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, good old snail mail still rules on polling day.
Over the next four to eight weeks, when the nation votes the 16th Lok Sabha in, plain post has its own constitutional duty cut out.
While most of us will mark our vote on the polling day with the press of a button on the electronic voting machine, this election season, thousands of specially printed postal ballots will travel thousands of kilometres and back to capture the choice of the voter-soldier at the outpost. And these special votes can land at the respective returning officer’s place until 8 a.m. on the day of counting. Postage is free.
The Ministry of Defence updates the numbers for States every year and particularly ahead of an election. The number of “service votes” and postal votes was finalised on January 31 this year.
Postal ballot papers and their covers are colour coded — white ballots and green covers for the Lok Sabha election and pink papers and covers for the Assembly election — and they go out in two envelopes: one carrying the ballot paper and the other for voter authentication.
Peak season

Chief Postmaster-General for Karnataka Circle M.S. Ramanujan says election time is also peak mailing season. Service ballots, coming as they do from uniformed voters in remote military outposts, apparently get a preferential treatment.
“They go out in specially marked bags, they are treated on a separate footing right from delivery to the voter up to their return to the electoral officer.”
At either end, a trained special delivery person despatches them to the respective units.
Ballot bags are monitored from the day they start rolling in until counting begins.

The drill for the postal ballot begins right after the final electoral rolls are ready, the withdrawal of nominations closes and the final contestants are known.
It will be a marathon race with time, said an official of the State Chief Electoral Officer.
“We will know the exact number of poll personnel who will need postal ballots by the end of the second round of their training. By the last days of March, we must start sending out lists to district offices to print.” However, their number would be far fewer than that in an Assembly election.
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