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    Banning Mobile Phones Within 100-meters of the Polling Stations: Why the Election Commission Must Reassess This Rule

    A day before polling in Maharashtra’s Pune, Shirur, and Maval constituencies, Pune District Collector Suhas Diwase issued directions banning cell phones within 100-meter radius of the polling station.

    In a video message, posted by Punekar News on X, the Collector appealed to citizens to keep their mobile phones at their homes or in their cars before entering the station. He stated that the prohibition is essential to maintain the secrecy of the voting process and prevent people from capturing pictures and videos of the arrangements at the booths to share on social media platforms.

    On Monday, May 13, voters posted on X that the directive resulted in chaos at the polling stations. Voters were finally allowed to vote after switching off their devices.

     

    Why is a blanket prohibition on mobile phones problematic?

    As per 2007 guidelines released by the Election Commission of India (ECI), “no person other than authorized election and police officials are allowed to either carry or use cellular phones, cordless phones, wireless sets, etc., in the 100-meter perimeter of the Polling Stations”.

    However, reports have shown that a ban on mobile phones has restricted voters from casting their votes in certain constituencies. For instance, according to a Times of India report, in Rajkot individuals with digital ID proofs were denied the opportunity to cast their vote due to prohibition on mobile phone usage. This restriction has discouraged several other voters who rely on the government’s DigiLocker application to store ID proofs.

    These measures significantly impede people’s right to vote, thereby undermining the democratic electoral process. Moreover, the strict ban on cell phones raises questions about its necessity when citizens predominantly use digital devices for essential activities such as travel, documentation, accessing voter slips online, and professional work.

    While it may seem reasonable to turn off mobile phones before entering polling stations, prohibiting their use within a 100-meter perimeter is excessively restrictive. This could potentially violate a voter’s right to free speech and hinder citizens from alerting authorities about election-related malpractices or reporting emergencies within the polling station premises. For instance, a recent report by Scroll revealed that police officers have been assaulting Muslim voters and snatching their voting cards inside polling centres to prevent them from casting their votes. Without access to their devices, how will citizens report such grave violations of their rights or even seek assistance for their safety?

    Given the looming threats to the integrity of fair elections and the imperative of transparency and accountability among polling officers and other authorities, the Election Commission of India (ECI) should reassess its regulations concerning the use of digital devices. It should propose alternative measures that strike a balance between safeguarding rights and ensuring security.


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    The post Banning Mobile Phones Within 100-meters of the Polling Stations: Why the Election Commission Must Reassess This Rule appeared first on MediaNama.

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