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RE-ENFRANCHISE THE FORGOTTEN VOTER

Focus: GS-II Governance

Introduction

  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has made it possible for senior citizens above the age of 65 to vote by postal ballot, given that they are at greater risk from exposure to the novel coronavirus.
  • Hitherto, this option was available only to disabled citizens and those above 80 years.
  • However, postal ballots may not minimise the risk of infection and it may be better instead to provide separate voting booths for senior citizens.

Migrants on the margins

  • Same empowering approach be extended to another group which faces enormous difficulties in exercising its franchise: migrant workers.
  • Migrant workers travel across India in search of an economic livelihood, and many never intend to settle down and wish to return to their native villages and towns.
  • Migrant workers become quasi-disenfranchised, forgotten voters because they cannot afford to return home on election day to choose their representatives.
  • Internal migrant workers do not enrol as voters in their place of employment since they find proof of residence hard to provide.
  • Many are seasonal migrants who would rather vote in their villages if they could afford to return home.
  • Since they do not have a vote where they work, their concerns are easy to ignore in their host State.
  • Sometimes, they are targeted for allegedly taking jobs away from the local population.

Task before the ECI

  • Ensuring that every Indian who is eligible to vote can do so must be a central mission for the ECI.
  • It is a matter of pride that India currently has over 91.05 crore registered voters and in the 2019 general election, a record 67.4%, i.e., more than 60 crore voters, cast their vote.
  • The ECI would do well to focus attention on the one-third, a substantial 29.68 crore, who did not cast their vote.
  • National Election Study surveys have shown that about 10% of registered voters refrain from voting due to a lack of interest in politics.
  • That leaves approximately 20 crore voters who want to vote but are unable to do so.
  • Of these there are about three crores Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). Only about one lakh NRIs have registered to vote.
  • To enable NRIs to exercise their franchise, the government brought in legislation in the previous Lok Sabha to enable voting through authorised proxies.

Does our system enable any form of voter portability that can serve as a model for re-enfranchising migrant workers?

  • Yes. Service voters (government employees) posted away from home can vote through the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS).
  • Classified service voters (e.g., military personnel) can do so through their proxies.
  • The ECI has said that it is testing an Aadhaar-linked voter-ID based solution to enable electors to cast their votes digitally from anywhere in the country. It will be some time in the future before this becomes a functional reality.

Way Forward

  • To facilitate voting by migrant workers, the ECI could undertake substantial outreach measures using the network of District Collectorates.
  • Migrants should be able to physically vote in their city of work based on the address on their existing voter IDs and duration of their temporary stay.
  • It is technologically feasible to record and transfer votes to their respective constituencies without compromising on the credibility of the election process.

Election Commission of India (EC)

  • The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority
  • The Election Commission is responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India.
  • The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies in India, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country.
  • Part XV of the Indian constitution deals with elections, and establishes a commission for these matters.
  • Article 324 to 329 of the constitution deals with powers, function, tenure, eligibility, etc., of the commission and the member.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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