The Election Commission on Thursday decided not to extend the postal ballot facility to citizens between the ages of 65 and 80 for the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections. The panel cited logistical and manpower constraints as well as safety protocols to justify its decision.

On June 19, the Centre had published a notification permitting people over the age of 65 to vote in elections via postal ballot, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Elderly persons are believed to be more vulnerable to the virus, along with children, pregnant women and those suffering from co-morbid conditions.

The Bihar Assembly elections are expected to be held by November this year, followed by the West Bengal polls early in 2021. So far, the postal ballot facility was available only to people over 80 years of age and those working in essential services outside their home states.

“Commission has already limited the number of electors to one thousand for each polling station for ease of voting, especially for elderly and vulnerable sections of electors, in Covid-19 situations,” the Election Commission said in a statement on Thursday. “In view of this, the state is creating additional 34,000 polling stations, which will increase the total number of polling stations to around 1,06,000. This would entail formidable logistical challenges.”

But the commission added that optional postal ballot will be available for people over 80 years of age, disabled voters, electors engaged in essential services and voters who are coronavirus positive or suspects, living in quarantine.

On July 3, the Congress had demanded an immediate withdrawal of the postal ballot scheme. The party said the move allows voters to come under “organised administrative influence”, violates the secrecy clause and makes election officials more vulnerable to the coronavirus.