[Editorial] Linking Aadhaar & Voter ID

Background:

  • In 2021, the Election Laws (Amendment) Act was passed by the Parliament. It sought to link the Aadhaar number with the voter ID card to address issues like voter duplication on electoral rolls.
  • This legislation enables electoral registration officers to ask a voter for his/ her Aadhaar number to establish identity at the time of application for inclusion in the electoral roll or for authentication of an electoral roll.
  • The government and the Election Commission of India have said that this linking process is to be voluntary.
  • However, the Internet Freedom Foundation alleged that a booth level election officer threatened to delete a person’s name from the electoral roll for not linking the Aadhaar number.

Why link Aadhaar & Voter ID?

  • Each polling booth’s electoral rolls, often carrying name and detail errors, form the basis for elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures. If the rolls are linked with Aadhaar number, accuracy would improve and de-duplication would be facilitated. This was seen in case of PAN numbers, as noted by the Supreme Court.
  • The linking process would benefit the first-time voters by simplifying the process of adding names into the rolls. Aadhaar verification is already in use for many other government services like e-Shram UAN numbers and passports.
  • When voters move to new addresses, they have to apply to the electoral registration officers for including/ deleting their names from rolls. This process is particularly difficult for the poor migrants and many often choose to not add their names to the rolls in new place. If Aadhaars are linked to EPICs, this could be addressed.
  • This would encourage more migrant labourers to enroll in the electoral rolls. This in turn would push local politicians, especially in the metro cities, to be more empathetic to the migrant community’s interests. This is especially significant given how the migrants were treated as second class citizens by several elected representatives during the pandemic.
  • The linking would help create a robust common voter list for all elections. Currently, separate rolls are made for the elections to the parliament, state legislatures and local body elections.

Why is the move being criticized?

  • Aadhaar is only a proof of residence– not a proof of citizenship, while only adult citizens who are resident are eligible to vote.
  • Instrumentally, linking Aadhaar with electoral roll for verification isn’t a foolproof strategy. According to Internet Freedom Foundation, the self-reported errors in the Aadhaar database are even more than errors in the electoral database.
  • During the recent Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the linking of Aadhaar and voter ID cards led to large-scale arbitrary deletion of voters.
  • There is a concern that upon linking voter IDs to Aadhaar number (which is now being used for a range of government services), agencies could aggregate booth level data and use the harvested information for voter profiling.
  • The risk of this possibility is further increased by the absence of a data protection law.

What is the way ahead?

  • The regular elections and relatively high voter participation are 2 of the clear successes of the Indian democratic system. This high voter turnout has been aided by the simplicity in the use of EVMs and ECI’s voter registration drives.
  • Periodically, the ECI faces the issue of revising the electoral rolls due to increase in migrant population in urban areas and the increase in the number of eligible voters due to demographic changes. However, with the repetition of the election cycles, the process has acquired more cohesion with voters being allowed to register using proofs of their age and residence.
  • Now, more than 131 crore Aadhaar numbers have been issued and almost the entirety of the adult population possess an Aadhaar number. In this respect, Aadhaar as a proof of residence for voter enrolment may prove to be a useful option.
  • In the rare case an individual doesn’t possess an Aadhaar number, alternate documents of proof could be used by the registration officer.
  • In any case, the government would do well in keeping its word that the Aadhaar-voter ID linking is voluntary, until a robust data protection framework is put in place.

Conclusion:

Aadhaar-voter ID linkage for voter authentication could be an effective way of improving electoral roll accuracy and voter participation. However, this should be voluntary, given the absence of a proper data protection law.

Practice Question for Mains:

Comment on the pros and cons of linking voter ID with Aadhaar number for voter verification. (250 words)

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