Thiruvananthapuram: The first phase of voting for the three-phased elections to the decentralised tiers of local bodies at the village, block and district levels in Kerala began today.

The elections are being conducted for panchayats, municipalities and corporations in which 27.1 million voters are eligible to vote across 34,744 polling stations. The elections are being held in 6,910 wards in 395 local bodies in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha and Idukki districts.

Kerala’s three political coalitions — CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) are in the fray in these polls. The polls are being held five months ahead of crucial assembly elections in Kerala, which are likely to be conducted in May 2021.

Voting began at 7 am and will conclude at 6 pm.

According to the state election commission there are 88,26,873 voters in the first phase, including 41,58,395 males, 46,68,267 females and 61 transgender people.

"This includes 150 NRIs and 42,530 first-time voters. As many as 11,225 polling booths have been set up. Webcasting has also been introduced in 320 problematic polling booths. A total of 56,122 personnel have been deployed for election duty. Voting is from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m," said the Election Commission.

The local body polls are being held under strict Covid-19 norms with voters being asked to sanitise their hands as they enter and exit the polling booths.

To maintain social distance markers are used and face masks are mandatory. Only three voters are allowed inside the booth at a time.

Apart from postal ballots, Covid-19 patients are allowed to vote after regular voters cast their votes. Listed as special voters, they must arrive at the polling station before 6 pm. Polling officials and agents are instructed to wear a PPE kit before special voters can enter the polling station. All procedures applicable to ordinary voters for identification and application of ink are applicable to Special Voters. But they are asked to use the voting machine only by wearing gloves. The signature will be recorded in the voter register using a special pen.

Those treated at government-run hospitals will be taken to the polling station by the health department. Special voters living in non-government-controlled institutions or homes should come with a PPE kit at their own expense. Drivers carrying them must also wear a PPE kit, said the state election commission.