Voting By All as One Nation and in One Poll

Lessons from the just concluded general elections point to the need for urgent electoral reforms if we are to make our political democracy more efficient. 

Lessons from the just concluded general elections point to the need for urgent electoral reforms if we are to make our political democracy more efficient. 

By Dr.Rao VBJ Chelikani

After the 2019 general elections, we have rightly learnt many lessons. In order to make our political democracy more efficient, we need urgent reforms, for which there appears to be an unusual consensus. Therefore, we appeal to the Mr. Prime Minister to get into action so as to constitute a corporation to maintain nationwide Electoral Rolls and the option to vote electronically both for Union and state elections for all voters who are out of station or are abroad or senior citizens or have a busy life in urban areas.

We appeal to the Prime Minister to constitute a corporation that should maintain nationwide Electoral Rolls. At the same time voters should be able to exercise their franchise for Union and state elections, electronically irrespective of where they are. 

The first Problem:

As civil society activists, the Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), and senior citizens’ associations have been, for the past 20 years, collaborating almost every year, sometimes several times in a year, in the periodic revision of the Electoral Rolls, in different states in India. In spite of our best efforts, the results have not been satisfactory at all to say the least.  As a consequence citizens are losing confidence in the capabilities of the higher officers in the Administration. This is happening while our EVM machines are attracting world-wide admiration. As the biggest and the most stable democracy in the world, we have the obligation to set up models of good practices.

The situation as it is

i). In general, there is no evidence to say that the political parties are very successful in manipulating the preparation of the Rolls, though they are taking advantage of the errors and defaults to make it an issue, particularly when they are dissatisfied with the election results.

ii).  Neither has there been any evidence of any ill-will or bad intention or complicity or sabotage, in a systematic manner on the part of the officers, high or low in handling the revision, at any level.

iii). Yet, at present, an army of government officers of various departments, of many ranks, including those of the All-India cadre are devoting lakhs of their man-hours, on this matter, to the detriment of their own professional duties, and are unable to meet the concerned public for months together. Many urgent projects are being delayed, incurring cost overruns.

iv). Further, extra personnel are repeatedly mobilised from outside institutions like Anganwadies, schools, as well as the volunteers from the civil society, like the RWAs, senior citizens, youth and students, etc. for frequent revision campaigns.

v). Thus, colossal amounts of precious human resources, energies, time and funds are devoted, year after year to this process, which remains forever, full of omissions and commissions with deletions, repetitions, and wrongly spelt names, etc. Every correction leading to further mistakes, the whole process has been very unprofessional.

vi). Further, there are too many old and new versions of the lists circulating at the same time in the hands of the officers. There is no single updated version to be referred to by the officials or to be consulted by the public online, as a standard reference copy.

Citizens are losing confidence in the senior administration even as the deployment of EVMs is attracting world-wide admiration. As the biggest and the most stable democracy in the world, we have the obligation to set up models of good practices.

The root cause 

Firstly, it is entirely due to lack of efficiency on the part of the lower level agents, who are poor in literacy skills in noting names, etc. in the field, and the low level of computer-skills among those who feed them into the computer to update the lists. Same is the case with the preparation and distribution of the EPIC cards, as well as the slips that indicate the polling booths. Secondly, there is no single high officer who can be directly and permanently held responsible for the management of the whole operation.

Door to door enumeration
Image: Courtesy Telangana Today

To start with, the preparation and maintenance of the Master Electoral Rolls for the entire nation should be the direct and permanent responsibility of the Central Election Commission of India, as a pre-condition to the effective fulfilling of their mandate of “superintendence, direction and control“ of elections.

i). Funds should flow to it from the Consolidated Fund of India with direct accountability to the CAG.

ii). Following the successful example of Aadhaar numbering of the entire nation, we should have a parallel or linked permanent corporation, or a couple of private companies, which can be held responsible for recording and updating the lists under the validating authority of the ECI.

iii). Now, it is technically feasible to maintain one single master electronic list of those who are eligible to vote instantly on various occasions, based on their Aadhaar number. The same master list can be re-formatted, as and when required to suit the constituency needs, such as elections for the wards in the Panchayats or in the municipal wards, for teachers or graduates constituencies, for age-wise or gender-wise eligibility or those who have less than three children, etc.

Now, at the time of every election operation, months before and months after the election, the whole nation stops functioning. In addition to the bye-elections, the general elections by rounds or phases might last several months. If the Parliament elections and Assembly elections take place separately, they take more time of the Administration. During this period, the peoples’ representatives, ministers, the chief ministers and even the prime minister cannot do much business for political reasons, in addition to the application of the Code of Conduct. The whole administration stands still, as many high officers are on election duty or the ministers are not there to sign the files. The latest election season is attributed to be the main reason for the slowdown of our GDP in 2019.

The Solution

  1. Hence, general elections are to be held simultaneously both for the legislative assemblies and Parliament. If a representative of the constituency vacates his or her seat, then, the candidate who received the highest vote after him should be invited to replace without the right to vote for the no-confidence or censuring motions. If the assembly is dissolved any time after passing the Finance bills, the governor’s rule should carry on the administration till the end of the term, and if the assembly is dissolved within nine months before the end of the term, then the government should be able to carry on the administration as care-taker team of ministers.
  2. Learning from our past experience, we should hereafter manage our general elections without involving the active administrative and executive personnel, at all. Instead, the associations of the pensioners, senior citizens organisations, ex-service personnel and even the para-military and the active defence personnel stationed in the area should be solicited to participate by the ECI. Youth and students can participate as a national civil service. If necessary, some more can be recruited from the open market. Foreigners in the country should be given the privilege of being observers. Neighbouring countries under SAARC should send volunteers. UN observers should be invited. The whole operation would become very participative, transparent and educative.
  3. At the same time, it should be made possible since it is now feasible to vote in a parallel process also electronically from home, or wherever the voter might be, whether one is out of station or is abroad or a senior citizen or is having a busy life in urban areas. Such a possibility would definitely increase the voting percentage and make elections in India more democratic, serene and affordable.

Hence, I appeal to you to use your good offices from the position you are holding to make these changes possible, notably by amending the Peoples’ Representation Act of 1951 so that our democratic regime becomes more efficient.

The above Proposals are being addressed to the Prime Minister of India. If you agree with the above, you also can join us by signing the Petition online:

https://bit.ly/2JlcfnD

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