Insights into Editorial: An ineffectual angel
Elections are a central feature of democracy. For elections to express the will of the electorate, they must be ‘free and fair’.
‘Free’ means that all those entitled to vote have the right to be registered and to vote and must be free to make their choice.
An election is considered ‘free’ when you can decide whether or not to vote and vote freely for the candidate or party of your choice without fear or intimidation. A ‘free’ election is also one where you are confident that who you vote for remains your secret.
‘Fair’ means that all registered political parties have an equal right to contest the elections, campaign for voter support and hold meetings and rallies.
This gives them a fair chance to convince voters to vote for them. A fair election is also one in which all voters have an equal opportunity to register, where all votes are counted, and where the announced results reflect the actual vote totals.
Election system in India:
By stipulating in the Constitution that elections must be conducted on the basis of universal adult suffrage, our framers transformed an entire population from subjects to citizens in one sweeping stroke.
It was an achievement that many doubted would be possible, but one whose success should make us all proud.
The principle of a universal adult franchise is the foundation of the democracy that gives every citizen a right to have one vote and each vote should have equal value.
Every citizen of 18 years or more has the right to vote, irrespective of his caste, religion, gender, educational qualification, financial status, etc.
To ensure that not even a single person is denied of this basic right for any reason whatsoever, a list of all voters (eligible to vote) is prepared. This list is officially called as the Electoral Roll or the Voters’ List.
The voter’s list is provided to the voters of each constituency much before the election for the purpose of inspection and correction.
This method ensures that not a single person is denied his/her right to vote and thus everyone should get an equal opportunity to choose their representatives.
Elections in India: An Extraordinary enterprise:
Though the voting systems are different, the eligible voting population of more than 900 million is 3.5 times as large as the United States’ and nearly six times larger than those of Indonesia, Japan, Russia and Brazil.
One way to imagine the complexity of Indian elections is to think of a single election commission holding elections in all these countries at the same time.
The Election Commission of India (EC) will deploy over 10 million polling and security staff, over 50 helicopters and 600 trains to conduct the exercise across nearly one million polling stations.
Free and Fair Election: Bedrock of democracy:
In many judgments over the years, the SC court has set out the enabling conditions that guarantee that voting remains a meaningful activity.
For Instance, the citizen’s right not to be arbitrarily denied the vote (the court has, therefore, held that voting is a fundamental freedom guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution).
- There are number of cases, where the voters have been deleted from the electoral rolls without intimation or a chance to be heard.
- There are allegations that, Several votes were removed, when EC used an un-audited de-duplication software alongside unauthorized Aadhaar linking to clean the electoral rolls.
- It resulted in removal of a very large number of genuine voters.
The right to know (thus, requiring compulsory declaration of certain information by candidates)
- The Government introduced electoral bond scheme.
- It allows limitless secret donations to the political parties.
- It strikes at the heart of the “Right to Know”.
- It denies the voters, the knowledge of who funds the people, who ask for their vote.
The right to a secret ballot (that has prompted the court to order the inclusion of a NOTA, or None of the Above option).
- Political parties determine voting outcomes at the level of individual booths.
- This destroys the very concept of secret ballot.
- Threats by the politicians can vitiate the electoral process.
- The need of the hour is totalizer machines.
- In 2018, when a case was filed before the Supreme Court asking for the totalizer machines, the court dismissed it even without hearing it.
The public faith in the electoral process:
- The request was to verify 50% of the EVMs using the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines.
- The EC’s only objection to this was that it would increase the time of counting by six days.
- One would imagine that a six-day increasing of the counting period, in the context of a seven-phase month-and-a-half-long general election, is a ridiculously small price to pay for maintaining public faith in the electoral process.
- However, the Court only increased the verification from one EVM per constituency to five, without any detailed reasons.
As the Supreme Court has reminded us many times, public faith in the electoral process is crucial to the continued survival of republican democracy, and it is these institutional safeguards that come together to ensure it.
Democracy is the rule of the people, for the people and by the people.
The country is improving with each election and each (court) challenge.
What needs significant improvement, however, is voter registration, registry clean-up, and voter awareness and education.
Given India’s magnificent diversity and the more recent fiscal devolution to states, it seems rather likely that this will not only continue but perhaps even evolve further to a stage where parties in various states will hold the balance of power over the two truly national parties.
To ensure this very ‘rule by the people’, elections are held. Hence, elections are the process by which people select their representatives in the government.