Election Commission and Democracy: Of the people, by the people and for the people
India is world’s largest democracy. The world’s oldest civilisation is currently a constitutional democracy with a vibrant parliamentary form of government.The Election Commission - one of the most important pillars in a democracy - has played a seminal role in strengthening and deepening the roots of democracy in India. The right to vote and elect representatives to the parliament and state legislatures is the very heart of democracy. Nasim Zaidi is the chief election commissioner of India while A. K. Joti and Prakash Rawat are the Election Commissioners. The Election Commission is responsible for conducting free and fair elections in the country. Electoral rolls are prepared after house-to-house enumeration by official enumerators monitored by the Election Commission.
The two major election laws in India are the Representation of the People Act, 1950 and the Representation of the People Act, 1951. While the Representation of the People Act, 1950 is related to both preparation and revision of electoral rolls, the Representation of the People Act, 1951 deals with smooth conduct of elections and disputes. It is important to note that Election Commission holds residuary powers to act in an appropriate manner in the conduct of elections, in case any law is silent or does not cover a matter adequately.
All citizens of India have the right to vote by registering as voters in constituencies where they reside, provided they are 18 years of age as on the first day of the year for which an electoral roll is prepared. It is important to note that individuals who have been disqualified by courts for çorrupt practices or any offense related to elections are not eligible to vote. Similarly, persons with an unsound mind cannot be registered as voters.
An electoral roll is a list of eligible citizens entitled to exercise their franchise. In other words, an electoral roll consists of names of eligible voters who can cast their votes in an election. India is divided into various constituencies. As per Article 82 of the Constitution of India, the Parliament has to enact a Delimitation Act once in 10 years or after every census. The central government sets up a Delimitation Commission which demarcates the boundaries of all parliamentary constituencies. India has 543 Parliamentary constituencies which have been created based on the 2001 census and will be remain so till 2026.
Indian citizens whose names are included in an electoral roll are eligible to vote. It is important to note that an electoral roll is revised on an yearly basis for various reasons including enrolment of new voters who turn 18 in a given year and also include citizens who move into a different constituency among others. In many cases, names of voters who have expired should be removed from an electoral roll. According to election commission, no voter should commute for more than 2 kms to cast his or her vote at a polling booth. Also, no polling booth should have more than 1500 voters. In case an eligible voter does not find his name on an electoral roll, he should file a claim application (Form 6) before the Electoral Registration Officer in his constituency. For deletion of names from the electoral list, form No. 7 is used. Similarly, for any changes in the house number, name, age and so forth of an elector, form no.8 should be used. Form 8A can used in cases where an elector changes his house in the same assembly constituency.
It is important to note that the process of updation of electoral rolls may continue even after the publication of electoral rolls in that individuals can file the required applications for the deletion, transposition, addition and so forth with the Electoral Registration Officer.
An elector has to identify himself with an Electors Photo Identity Card (EPIC) which is issued by the Election Commission. However, an EPIC alone will not allow an elector to cast his vote in that his name should be listed in the electoral roll for him to exercise his franchise.
Polling is conducted on different days in different constituencies to ensure law and order for free and fair elections. The Returning Officer draws up the list of candidates who compete in a given election after all candidates complete the process of filing their nominations. Ballot papers are then printed along with the names and symbols of candidates. Candidates who hail from nationally or regionally recognized parties are provided the symbols of their respective parties.
The date and hours for polling are fixed by the Election Commission of India before all elections. Voting at all polling booths set up in public institutions across the country is held by secret ballot. An elector is allocated a ballot paper, provided his or her name is mentioned in the electoral roll. An elector has to indicate his choice of candidate by marking his ballot paper with a stamp on the related symbol. After marking his choice, an elector has to put his ballot paper in a ballot box in the presence of the Presiding Officer and some polling agents. However, the Election Commission since 1998 has advocated the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) rather than ballot boxes. The Election Commission appoints many observers for smooth conduct of elections and also keep a check on the money spent by candidates and parties.
Upon entering a polling booth or station, an elector has to go to the First Polling Officer who is in charge of proper identification of electors. The First Polling Officer announces the name of the elector and his serial number in the presence of polling agents. The elector then has to proceed towards the Second Polling Officer who will mark his left forefinger with an indelible ink, following which, the former has to sign in the Register of Voters. The Second Polling Officer will then give the elector a voter’s slip. The elector has to give the voter’s slip to the Third Polling Officer who will then press the ‘ballot’ button on the voting machine. The elector should then proceed to the voting compartment based on his serial number in the voters’ register.
In case an elector decides not to exercise his franchise, he must inform the presiding officer who will then take the former’s voter’s slip and make an entry in the remarks column of the Register of Voters. In case an elector finds that his vote has already been cast as informed by the First Polling Officer, he should bring it to the notice of Presiding Officer of the polling station. After the polling process is complete, the counting of votes is duly supervised by the observers and Returning Officers. The Returning Officer announces the name of the winner (s).
The Election Commission of India has made it mandatory for all candidates to file affidavits along with nomination forms with details of their criminal antecedents, assets, liabilities and educational background. All Indian citizens of the country can, if they wish to, acquire copies of affidavits and nomination forms of candidates from Returning Officers.
There are several practices which are considered electoral offenses as listed below:
It is important to note that no voter should disclose details of who he voted for. In case a voter violates the secrecy, he will be booked under Section 128 of Representation of People Act, 1951.
In case an elector has any issue related to elections, he may contact some officials as listed below: