K’taka polls: EC sets up Model Polling Booths, facilities for disabled persons

Activists have welcomed the move, but want it to be implemented properly.
K’taka polls: EC sets up Model Polling Booths, facilities for disabled persons
K’taka polls: EC sets up Model Polling Booths, facilities for disabled persons
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Long queues and lack of facilities at polling booths have often kept voters away. But for the Karnataka assembly elections due on May 12, the Election Commission aims to ensure that maximum people vote. After setting up pink polling booths for women and launching the Chunavana app to guide voters, they are trying other ways to ensure that people go and vote. The Election Commission has now introduced model polling stations and facilities for differently-abled voters at polling booths. 

Dakshina Kannada district among many others has witnessed a low voter turnout in recent elections. “People are not willing to spend hours in the heat, waiting in queues for their turn to cast their vote. They prefer not to vote. The Election Commission wants to ensure that maximum voters vote to maintain the principles of democracy of people’s participation,” said, MR Ravi, Chief Electoral Officer of Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat. 

Model Polling Booths

The model polling booths will serve to address concerns of the voters. To begin with, Victoria High School, Ladyhill and Government High School, Gandhinagar in Dakshina Kannada district, will serve as two model polling booths. It will have a lounge where people can sit, until their turn comes, to ensure queue-less voting. It will have drinking water and sanitation facilities for those who visit the polling booth. There will be air coolers and sufficient illumination in the voting rooms. Voters will be given a red carpet welcome. “The region has an emerging urban voter population. We want to make voting an exercise of great importance, and encourage people to vote,” Ravi said. The ambience will be homely and given a festive appearance. There will be first-aid kits and crèche facilities for small children who accompany voters. “Through the success of attempts like these, we hope to continue this initiative across other polling booths in Karnataka during future elections,” Ravi added. 

Facilities for differently-abled persons

Karnataka has a significant population of persons with disability, out of which about 10,911 are from Dakshina Kannada.  Many do not vote due to the trouble of going to the booths and inability to cast their votes. The Election Commission has issued guidelines to ensure that maximum people from the differently-abled community vote. 

As per the Election Commission directive, the state government has undertaken three initiatives. Each booth has been assigned a certain number of wheelchairs based on the number of differently-abled voters. Booth Level Awareness Group (BAG) members have been requested to assist voters. Booth Level Officers have been ordered to strictly follow these directives. Magnifying glasses have been arranged at 435 polling stations to help senior and partially visually-impaired citizens. Vehicles for pick and drop of differently-abled and senior citizens from home to the polling booth and vice versa, have been arranged at 135 gram panchayats.  

Reactions from activists

Speaking to TNM, Shiva Hiremath, Deputy Director of Association for Persons with Disability in Bengaluru informed that the Election Commission has taken the required steps during the Karnataka assembly election to ensure that differently-abled people feel motivated to vote. “The Election Commission officials have informed us about the measures during voting. They want to ensure that differently-abled persons vote at the nearest booth, and voting is accessible to them. Such facilities were previously unavailable during elections earlier. We at the association welcome this move, since the commission is working towards providing an environment that is friendly for such persons. However, it has to commence practically. BLO’s (booth level officers) need to work to ensure that these facilities are made available to those in need of it,” he said. 

Madhu Singhal, Founder of Mitra Jyoti Charitable Trust said that the measures are usually not provided in totality. “Services for the differently-abled should be present at all booths. These are available at a few, leaving the rest without any facilities. Booths are usually not disabled-friendly. If the Election Commission is planning such an initiative, it needs to ensure that all services are provided,” she said. 

She also recommended some measures that need to be followed. “There needs to be ramp facility. Braille system of voting should be used for visually-impaired persons. Public relations people should be present to guide hearing-impaired persons through sign language,” she added.    

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