In the wake of two MLAs in Gujarat violating the secrecy of vote in the Rajya Sabha elections, the Election Commission is contemplating measures to improve the layout of the polling station for such polls to minimise the scope of the ballot paper being seen by anyone not authorised to do so.
Sources said improvements could be made in respect of seating arrangements and positioning of furniture at the polling station for Rajya Sabha polls.
The Election Commission, which rejected the votes of two rebel Congress MLAs - Bhola Bhai Gohil and Raghavji Bhai Patel - had looked into the relevant portions of the video recording of the August 8 Gujarat polls following complaints from the Congress.
A leaked video had also surfaced which apparently showed an MLA displaying his ballot paper to his party's authorised representative, who was seated on a sofa.
The sources said sofas should not be used inside a polling station.
They said that instead of the ballot paper being displayed to the authorised representative by keeping it in the hand, an option could be to put it briefly on a table near the representative for him to see.
There is a provision of open voting in the Rajya Sabha elections which entails an elector showing his marked ballot paper only to the authorised representative of the political party to which he belongs before inserting it in the ballot box.
The sources said that the ballot paper has to be shown in a manner that it is visible only to authorised representative and he cannot tell the MLA to change his preference. The choice of ballot should also not be visible to any official present to guide the MLAs to the ballot box.
The bitterly-fought contest for the third Rajya Sabha seat in Gujarat, which Congress leader Ahmed Patel eventually won, had gone to the wire with the two sides making every effort to get the numbers. The BJP had fielded Balwantsinh Rajput after his defection from the Congress against Patel, who is political secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The Congress complained to the Election Commission that Bhola Bhai Gohil and Raghavji Bhai Patel had shown their vote to BJP leaders, which was against the rules. The BJP, on its part, had contended that the Congress had not raised objections in time and the Returning Officer was the statutory authority to decide the validity or otherwise of a ballot paper.
The poll panel had observed in its verdict that the two MLAs had violated the voting procedure and secrecy of the ballot papers and hence invalidated their votes.
The sources said that some modifications and insertions could be made in the handbook for Returning Officers in the light of the Gujarat experience to improve the layout at polling stations.
The Election Commission had last year also taken corrective measures in the election process for Rajya Sabha and legislative council elections after an "ink controversy" surfaced in the Rajya Sabha polls in Haryana and 12 votes marked using a wrong pen were declared invalid.
The poll panel had issued directions that an integrated violet sketch pen with certain specifications will be used for all future elections and it shall be given to each voter by a designated polling officer and taken back after the voter comes out of the voting area.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)