Elections and Electoral Reforms
“The Ballot is stronger than the Bullet.”
- Abraham Lincoln
Breaking Down the Basics
India is divided into states and union territories, with a parliamentary system governed under the Constitution of India.
The Constitution distributes power among the Federal Government and the States.
President of India is the ceremonial head of the nation.
President may take over executive powers of a State/dissolve State Government under necessary conditions and a new election is then conducted.
Prime Minister of India (PM) exercises most executive powers under this system.
PM is the leader of the party or political alliance which has secured a majority in the national elections to the Lok Sabha.
India is divided into States and UTs regionally; each State has a Chief Minister (CM) who exercises executive powers of the State.
CM is the leader of the party or political alliance which has secured a majority in the regional elections otherwise known as State Assembly Elections.
Certain UTs elect an assembly and have a territorial government, while smaller UTs are governed by a someone appointed by the President.
Types of Elections
Election Commission of India (ECI) is federal body provided for in the Indian Constitution.
It is responsible for monitoring and administering all electoral processes of India.
Free and fair elections that are devoid of bias.
Conduct of members pre-elections, during elections and post-elections are as per statutory legislation.
Election related disputes are handled by ECI.
When enacted laws make insufficient provisions to deal with a certain situation during the conduct of elections, ECI has the residuary powers under the Constitution to act in an appropriate manner.
Article 324 vests “in an Election Commission” the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”.
The Supreme Court judgement in Mohinder Singh Gill & Anr vs The Chief Election Commissioner and Others (1977) held that Article 324 “operates in areas left unoccupied by legislation.
It was noted that Constitution left the scope of Residuary Power to Commission.
Certain Important Procedures
Candidates file their nomination papers with ECI after which a list of candidates is made.
Parties cannot use Government resources for campaigning.
Campaigning must end by 6 pm, 2 days before polling day.
Collector of each district is in charge of polling.
Polling is held from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm with Government officers as poll officers at polling stations.
Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are used to prevent rigging of elections, as opposed to ballot boxes.
POI – EVMs were first used in the 1997 election and became the only method of voting in 2004. They are time savers when it comes to counting results. Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was introduced on 14 August 2014; it produces a paper slip, called ballot slip, that contains the name, serial number, and image of the candidate selected by the voter for his vote. VVPAT and EVMs have been used in every assembly and the general election in India since 2019. Post the 2019 general election, ECI declared that there were no mismatches between EVM and VVPAT.
Important – In case of discrepancy between VVPAT and EVM results, printed paper slips count is taken as final.
Citizen has his/her left index finger marked by indelible ink after casting vote. This procedure is being practiced since 1962.
Negative vote can be exercised through ‘None of The Above’ (NOTA) option (since 2013).
Physical presence at the voting booth is mandatory.
Postal voting is accessible by –
Service Voters (employees of Armed Forces and their wives, employees of Government posted abroad)
- Disabled citizens
- Citizens above age of 80
- Citizens in preventive detention
Current Affairs POI – Recently, senior citizens above the age of 65 and voters who test positive for COVID-19 or are suspected to be COVID-19 affected were allowed to cast their vote by post.
Prisoners do not have the right to vote.
Vice President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu has highlighted two issues in India’s experience with democracy –
Misuse of money power in politics and elections, and
Attempts to entice voters with short-term benefits (populist schemes for electoral advantage) at the cost of governance, adversely impacting long term interests of the poor, and the middle class.
So what are Electoral Reforms?
Electoral Reforms basically means introduction of the best practices in ensuring better democracy, clean politics, fair elections, ideal members of legislative houses, true representation etc.
Need for Electoral Reforms
Prominent issues in India’s electoral politics –
Money and Muscle Power
Campaigning, publicity, general party expenses in almost every constituency exceed permissible limit of expenses. Expenditure which is accounted for and legitimate is a small percentage of actual costs.
- High electioneering costs leads to corruption.
- Reports of violence, booth capturing, threatening, intimidation and other illegal means are common nationwide practices during elections.
- Illegal means of coercion such as giving out ‘freebies’, food supplies at cheapest rates, electronic devices, etc. to voters in return for their vote.
- Paid misinformation via news giving out fake reports on opposing parties in order to deceive voters destroy the concept of ‘free and fair’ elections.
- Vote buying displaces able politicians from posts of MP/MLA, and gives it to rich candidates instead.
POI – Out of 533 candidates elected to the 17th Lok Sabha (2019-present), 475 Parliamentarians (accounting for 88%) are ‘crore-patis’ (multimillionaires) implying ‘Rich Parliamentarians, Poor Indians’.
Floating of non-serious candidates by parties to cut down rival candidate’s votes.
Caste/communal practices, such as providing incentives to certain caste/religious groups in return for their votes, or candidate winning over people on grounds of having same caste/religion etc., defeats the whole purpose of democracy and equality.
Misuse of Government machinery by party currently in power during elections leading to misuse of public funds as well as unfair advantage on electoral playground.
Criminalization of Politics and Politicization of Criminals (A Case Study)
Anti-social elements, and convicted criminals enter electoral politics owing to the strong nexus between criminals and some politicians through loopholes in the current system.
Criminals are able to make it in the political arena because of their financial clout.
These criminals have sufficient money and muscle power to win them elections for political parties that are only too eager to oblige such a ‘winnable candidate’.
Parties field criminals in elections in return for their funds and muscle, providing them with political patronage and protection, and immunity from cases against them.
Why does Criminalization of Politics persist?
Previous Court judgements and laws have not been implemented effectively.
Anonymous feature in Electoral Bonds (2017) – ‘neither the donor nor the political party is obligated to reveal whom the donation comes from’ allows element of secrecy in political funding.
Criminal Justice System is ambiguous on the repercussions of not following recent orders.
Due to a flawed justice system, it is observed that conviction rates for politicians is very small, down to just 6% in criminal cases.
In effect, ‘politicians’ with a criminal record go unpunished and are not barred from contesting further elections.
Current Affairs POI: “...in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them” according to the Supreme Court in the case of Rambabu Singh Thakur vs. Sunil Arora & Ors. (February 2020). This judgement was delivered in a contempt case filed in respect of the general disregard shown by political parties to the Constitution Bench judgment in the case of Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India (2018) to publish the criminal details of their candidates on their respective websites and print as well as electronic media for public awareness. The Supreme Court ordered political parties to submit their compliance reports with the ECI within 72 hours of the judgement, or risk contempt of court action.
Comparing previous court orders on the issue and February 2020 SC judgement on the same
Reforms Undertaken pre 2000
Reduction of minimum age for voting from 21 to 18 years (61st Amendment to the Constitution).
Deputation to ECI to be considered for personnel working in ‘preparing, revising, and correcting electoral rolls for elections.’
Widespread use of EVMs as they are fool-proof, efficient and environment friendly.
Restriction on contesting more than 2 constituencies.
Liquor sale ban during period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of poll within a polling area.
By Election time limit of six months – Bypolls to be held within 6 months of vacancy.
Reduction in campaign period.
Reforms Undertaken post 2000
Ceiling on an individual candidate’s spending although there is no check on how much a party can spend on a candidate or election:
50 – 70 lakhs for Lok Sabha elections;
20 – 28 lakhs for assembly election.
Expansion of reach of postal ballot in 2013 to 6 categories – service voters; special voters; wives of service voters and special voters; voters subjected to preventive detention; voters on election duty and Notified voters.
National Voter’s Day on January 25th, marking ECI’s founding day to create awareness about elections.
Declaring of criminal antecedents, assets, etc. by the candidates is required and declaring false information in the affidavit is now an electoral offence punishable with imprisonment up to 6 months or fine or both.
Reforms in the Times of COVID
Upcoming Bihar Elections and ECI guidelines for elections during the pandemic, “Corona Code of Conduct”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill.
- Tough questions on conduction of nationwide examinations (such as JEE and NEET), safety of national/international travel, resuming educational institutions and other services have only begun to be answered.
- Conduction of Periodic Elections (the basis of India’s electoral process) sure enough poses a dilemma of its own.
Bihar, wherein elections are due in the coming months of October-November 2020, has an electorate of over 70 million, larger than that of several countries, and is set to be the pioneer of elections in the post COVID era.
The ECI has issued guidelines ahead of these elections for conducting general/by elections during the pandemic.
As per said guidelines –
- Door-to-door campaign, road shows, public gatherings and rallies are still allowed, but with accentuated restriction and supervision so that there is no slip-up on corona virus related precautions.
- A group of five persons, including candidates but excluding security personnel, if any, will be allowed to do door to door campaigning.
- Convoy of vehicles should be broken after every 5 (five) vehicles instead of 10 vehicles (excluding the security vehicles, if any)
Nodal Health Officers, Health advisories and disaster management regulations will regulate conduct.
Every person will have to wear a face mask during every election-related activity.
Thermal scanning of all persons shall be carried out.
Sanitizer, soap and water shall be made available.
Number of voters at a polling station stands reduced to a maximum of 1,000 from the usual 1,500.
Every voter will wear a glove while pressing the button of EVM.
ECI’s SVEEP programme to be engaged to make sure safe arrival and safe exit by voters.
Systematic Voters' Education and Electoral Participation Programme (SVEEP) was introduced in order to educate the voters.
Quarantined COVID-19 patients will be allowed to cast their votes at the last hour of the poll day, besides the facility of postal ballot for those already in home or institutional quarantine for being positive or suspected of being COVID positive.
Election Material Kit will be prepared in a spacious and sufficiently large hall following all safety, sanitation, and social distancing measures.
Candidates may file their nomination and affidavit online, and also deposit security money.
Cut in number of persons to accompany candidates for submission of a nomination to two persons.
He/she may seek his/her elector certification for the purpose of nomination online.
Independent administration of ECI instead of relying on Central and State Government staff during elections. Elimination of ‘Chalta hai’ attitude by ECI with regards to corrupt electoral practices.
Non-Partisan role of media to ensure true transparency and democracy.
Curbing corruption by providing funds to parties whose expenses are accounted for, disqualification of candidates involved in corruption.
Secure voter’s rights to allow citizens to make free choice and having secrecy of voters.
Awareness among voters about the value of each vote and their significant role in governance of the country.
Capping permissible expenditure by parties to ensure elevated morals and less abuse of money power.
Bringing political parties under Right to Information Act (2005) to ensure transparency.
Reforms in justice system to ensure effective tackling of Criminalization issue of Politics.