Conundrum of the dormant voters- a step towards a more inclusive Democracy -Muskan Dang, 3rd Year

With a gargantuan magnitude of 45.6 crore migrants[1] (38% of the total population) in India, migration has become another pertinent issue among problems like pollution, education etc. Out of a total population of 6 million approximately 1.7 million constitute the labor migrants in the metropolitan city of Ahmedabad[2]. This hampers their suffrage since these people fail to fulfill eligibility criteria of ordinary residence under Section 20 of the Representation of People Act 1950[3].

Right to vote is the stanchion of a representative democracy. It has been declared as a legal right under article 326[4] of the Indian constitution. With principles like free and fair elections and universal franchise in theory, the practical applicability of the same should be given a closer study. Political parties detach themselves from the voter turnout in an election as they are solely concerned with their victory margins; they are content with the status quo as long as they win. The futile practice of misleading the population by comparing votes backed by each party stealthily shift the focus from the real problem of determining rule of majority. With a voter turnout of 67.4% (the highest turnout till date), as per the official Election Commission of India (ECI) statistics[5], nearly 293 million voters out of 900 million did not exercise their right to franchise in the 2019 Indian Lok Sabha elections. With polling percentage as low as 29.39%[6] in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, illiteracy is not the only veracious explanation of poor voter turnout. Other impediments that cannot be disregarded are displacement of people, voting conditions, lack of interest etc. This article is divided into two sections; first part focusing on how migrants are handicapped from exercising their suffrage. The second section aims at providing solutions for the conundrum.

Present Barriers The ordinary resident clause predominantly affects 4 categories of people, namely; domestic migrants, NRIs, service men and government officials on polling duty. Section 60[7] of the Representation of People Act incorporates postal ballot and proxy voting as the two alternative voting mechanisms only for the latter two. Recently voting via postal ballot system[8] has been proposed for the NRIs as well. The only right that is available to a migrant is to re-register or change address as a voter at the place of migration. It is evident that while the country opts to move forward, the destitute class of internal migrants remains deprived of their right to vote. Domestic migration has always been an underrated yet unshunnable problem in the country. The vote bank politics overshadowing the Indian scenario is clearly evident from how special provisions are only being given to the 31 million[9] NRIs even though migrants are four times its population.

Alternative mechanisms provided in the Indian elections have their own flaws which cannot be ignored. These are:

PROXY VOTING

This system has a lot of loopholes and is the most vulnerable voting method.

  • Non-accountability- Under this process, a person who is not in the position to cast his vote is allowed to appoint a proxy who shall vote on his behalf. Due to the system of secret ballot, there is no way to assure that the vote is exercised as directed.
  • Unconstitutional- It is unconstitutional as it goes against the basic voting machinery. It violates the principle of one person, one vote; it does not warrant fair elections; does not ensure voting freely without pressure etc.

POSTAL BALLOT  

This system is better than the former but the lacunae cannot be sidelined.

  • Misuse- With no supervision as compared to the polling booth, it can be easily misused. Under this there is again no guarantee of free and fair voting without external pressure. Hence secrecy is compromised at the same time.
  • Mechanism- Under this process, the person who is not able to exercise his vote due to his absence from his ordinary residence is sent a ballot paper which he can post to the ECI after marking his choice. The disadvantages are mainly two folded; the procedure being manual can be tampered at any stage and postal services may cause undue delay in the election mechanism.

Due to this reason ECI had recently introduced Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot (ETPBS). This allows one way transmission of ballot sheets to the voters via internet.

The way Forward

Keeping in mind peculiar conditions like population, literacy rate, cultural diversity etc. we must strive to effectuate unique and viable mixture of solutions to solve the problem of portability of votes in India. The following techniques can be explicated to obtain a lead in the current state of affairs:

  1. A mix of EVM and E voting- A person beforehand informs the EC of his displacement and on Election Day he goes to his nearest polling booth, the EC check his identity proof and he is allowed to vote online which is later transferred and counted in his constituency.
  2. Defining Migrants- At present migrants have only been defined[10] in Section 2(e) of the Interstate Migrant Act, 1979. EC should make provisions to define and classify short term and long -erm migrants. This classification can help in making provisions for them accordingly by setting a basic eligibility criterion.
  3.  Distinguishing between the migrants on the basis of period of work the ECI should make special provisions for the long-term migrants only.
  4. Short term migrants may be given incentives during the voting period. For example, easing the mobility charges by providing concession in bus and train fares etc.  
  5. Extension of EDC- A provision similar to Election Duty Certificate (EDC) could be extended to the short-term migrants. This shall allow them to vote in the place of migration, provided they are in the same state.
  6. Providing voting in embassies for the NRIs.

Democracy is government of, by and for the people and thus we must ensure that everybody is provided with an equal opportunity to participate in the same. The government should ensure that the universal character of voting as mentioned in the constitution is not compromised at any cost. One’s voice cannot be and should not be suppressed due to demographic barriers.

References

[1] Madhunika Iyer, Migration in India and impact of the lockdown on migrants (10th June, 2020), Migration in India and the impact of the lockdown on migrants (prsindia.org).

[2] Krishnavatar Sharma,India has 139 million internal migrants. They must not be forgotten, World Economic Forum (Oct 1, 2017), https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/india-has-139-million-internal-migrants-we-must-not-forget-them/.

[3] The Representation of People Act, 1950, No. 43, Acts of Parliament, 1950(India). 

[4] India Const. Art. 326.

[5] Election Commission of India, Lok Sabha Elections, 2019 HIGHLIGHTS, 2. HIGHLIGHTS – General Election 2019 – Election Commission of India (eci.gov.in).

[6] Bharti Jain, Lok Sabha Elections: At 67.1%, 2019’s turnout’s a record, Election Commission says (21st May, 2019), Lok Sabha Elections 2019: At 67.1%, 2019 turnout’s a record: Election Commission | India News – Times of India (indiatimes.com).

[7] The Representation of People Act, 1950, No. 43, Acts of Parliament, 1950(India). 

[8] Ritika Chopra, Explained: NRIs could soon be able to vote via post. Here’s the process (4th Dec, 2020), Explained: NRIs could soon be able to vote via post. Here’s the process | Explained News,The Indian Express

[9] Supra

[10] Interstate Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, No. 30, Acts of Parliament, 1979 (India).

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