Elections are the life and blood of modern democracies. The health and vitality of parliamentary democracy are sustained by ensuring free, fair and peaceful elections where the verdict of the people finds full expression. Free and fair elections are important in ensuring the government authority derives power from the will of the people. It is expected that electoral reforms will contribute to better participation of the citizens in electoral practices, reduce corruption and strengthen democracy in India. As a foundation for the electoral reforms, recently, the Prime Minister’s Office had held a meeting with representatives of the Election Commission and the Law Ministry to discuss the possibility of having a common electoral roll for elections to the Panchayat, municipality, state assembly and the Lok Sabha. In this context, let’s make a detailed examination of the feasibility of common electoral roll in India.
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What is meant by Electoral Roll?
- An electoral roll is a compilation that lists persons who are entitled to vote in a particular election in a particular jurisdiction.
- The list is usually broken down by electoral districts.
- Electoral rolls are the result of a process of voter registration.
- In electoral systems, voter registration is the requirement that a person otherwise eligible to vote must register on an electoral roll, which is usually a prerequisite for being entitled or permitted to vote.
- Electoral roll and voter registration serve several functions, especially to streamline voting on election day.
- Voter registration can be used to detect election fraud by enabling authorities to verify an applicant’s identity and entitlement to a vote, and to ensure a person doesn’t vote multiple times.
How is the Electoral Rolls are maintained?
- Traditionally, Electoral Rolls were maintained in paper form, either as loose-leaf folders or in printed pages, but nowadays electronic electoral rolls are increasingly being adopted.
- Similarly, the number of countries adopting biometric voter registration has steadily increased.
- As of 2016, half of the countries in Africa and Latin America use biometric technology for their electoral rolls.
- Most jurisdictions maintain permanent electoral rolls, which are updated continuously or periodically. For example, France, which updates them annually. While some jurisdictions compile new electoral rolls before each election as in India.
- Most jurisdictions close updating of electoral rolls some period, commonly 14 or 28 days, before an election, but some jurisdictions may allow registration at the same time as attending a polling station to vote.
Electoral Roll in India: An Overview
- In India, publishing and updating of the electoral roll is the responsibility of the Election Commission of India, each state’s chief electoral officer, and each state’s election commission.
- These government bodies update and publish the electoral roll every year, making it available for download from official government websites.
- The Representation of the People Act, 1950 and the Representation of Electors Rule, 1960, framed thereunder, provide a comprehensive basic law relating to preparation and revision of electoral rolls.
- Besides, the election commission will issue guidelines/instructions from time to time to be followed by Electoral Registration Offices.
Why Different Types of Electoral Roll in India?
- The voters’ list for the Panchayat and Municipality elections is different from the one used for the Parliament and Assembly elections in many states.
- The different types of electoral rolls stems from the fact that the supervision and conduct of elections in our country are entrusted with two constitutional authorities, i.e. the Election Commission (EC) of India and the State Election Commissions (SECs).
- The EC is charged with the responsibility of conducting polls to the offices of the President and Vice-President of India, and to Parliament, the state assemblies and the legislative councils.
- The State Election Commissions (SECs) are responsible for supervising municipal and Panchayat elections.
- The SECs are free to prepare their own electoral rolls for local body elections, and this exercise does not have to be coordinated with the EC.
- There are some state laws which allow the SEC to borrow and use the EC’s electoral rolls for the local body elections.
- All the states except Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, adopt EC’s rolls for local body polls.
What is the need for a Common Electoral Roll?
- The Union government has committed itself to hold elections simultaneously to the Lok Sabha, state assemblies and local bodies.
- The incumbent government has pitched a common electoral roll and simultaneous elections as a way to save an enormous amount of effort and expenditure.
- The government has argued that the preparation of a separate voters list causes duplication of essentially the same task between two different agencies, thereby duplicating the effort and the expenditure and It would lead to greater integration if there could be one electoral roll.
- The Law Commission recommended it in its 255th report in 2015 and the EC too adopted a similar stance in 1999 and 2004.
- The move could help bring down costs, corrupt practices and the number of duplicate voters.
What are the impacts of the proposed move?
- The move would impact at least ten states and one UT, that uses their own electoral roll for municipal polls such as, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
- This is because the proposed move may need some minor amendments to the local laws of the States concerned.
What are the changes to be made for a Common Electoral Roll?
- It is required to move a constitutional amendment to Article 243K and 243ZA that give the power of superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of electoral rolls and the conduct of local body elections to the SECs.
- The amendment would make it mandatory to have a single electoral roll for all elections in the country.
- It is necessary to persuade the state governments to tweak their respective laws and adopt the Election Commission’s voters list for municipal and Panchayat polls.
Common Electoral Roll and Idea of Holding Simultaneous Elections
- According to the Government officials and sources, the proposed single electoral roll is not linked to the idea of holding simultaneous elections as simultaneous polls typically refer to holding Lok Sabha and assembly polls together in the Indian context.
- But, according to many constitutional experts and legal luminaries, The proposed Common Electoral Roll would facilitate simultaneous polls.
- The ruling party in power had pitched for a uniform electoral roll in its election manifesto for Lok Sabha elections held in May 2019.
- The election commission has repeatedly said it was capable of holding simultaneous elections provided the legal framework and logistics were in place.
- Most of the political parties have, however, not warmed up to the idea, citing various reasons besides arguing that it would not be good for democracy.
- However, in November 2019, the CEC had said simultaneous polls, or ‘one nation, one election’, was “not happening very shortly” unless political parties sit together and evolve consensus and bring about requisite amendments in law.
What are the challenges in implementing a Common Electoral Roll in India?
- There is a growing level of mistrust between the Centre and the states. So, persuading the state governments to tweak their respective laws and adopt the Election Commission’s (EC) voters list for municipal and Panchayat polls pose a serious challenge.
- The exercise of Common Electoral Roll would also involve technical issues since the boundaries of the EC’s polling stations did not always match those drawn by the SECs for the municipal wards.
- The use of technology, especially the biometric ID Aadhaar, or something similar poses a serious privacy and data security concerns as the information sits on the cloud and can potentially be hacked.
- Will people with voter IDs and names on electoral rolls be left out of the NRC register? Or vice versa?
- Will this end up in courts with aggrieved persons and groups asking for justice?
- These are still unanswered questions in this regard.
- The proposed change would require a massive consensus-building exercise among the states, so that they may call for a mature approach in which they accept the voters list of EC.
- Though making EC’s voters list fit to the SEC’s wards is a tedious task, but it can be done by the use of technology.
- The Government should come forward to allay the fears about privacy and security issues.
- There should be proper guidelines regarding the proposed move when it comes to the NRC and CAA.
- Though Common Electoral Roll for all polls a better system, it raises serious questions and challenges which need to be addressed properly.
- It will be a huge national saving, if there are common roll for all elections, and the Parliamentary and Assembly rolls are used for local bodies elections also, by being adopted and rearranged, by the method of “Cut and Paste” according to the wards or polling areas of the local bodies.
Practice Question for Mains
- The proposed move of Common Electoral Roll would sub-serve great national interest of economy in government expenditure in elections. Discuss (250 Words)