The article ‘Elimination of barriers in exercising of the Right to Vote’ by Shubhangi Singh is an extensive analysis of the hurdles faced by citizens in using their right to vote. Introduction: Recognition of Right to vote in Law The right to vote has been recognized by international law and plays a vital role in national and global… Read More »

The article ‘Elimination of barriers in exercising of the Right to Vote’ by Shubhangi Singh is an extensive analysis of the hurdles faced by citizens in using their right to vote.

Introduction: Recognition of Right to vote in Law

The right to vote has been recognized by international law and plays a vital role in national and global politics. According to Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948,

a government must derive its authority from the will of the people which shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be conducted by free voting procedure following the principle of universal and equal suffrage. Since not all citizens can make laws, they choose their leaders to formulate laws and run the nation on their behalf.

The right to vote plays a vital role in the development of any nation and its legal system. Lack of the right to vote can lead to rigged elections that hamper the economic, political, legal, and social growth of a nation and bring instability within the society. Only when all citizens of a nation cast their vote can a nation achieve true democracy.

However, a relatively low voter turnout in India indicates that not all Indian citizens are exercising their right to vote. Why is that? What’s holding Indian citizens back from choosing their representatives? Can we isolate the barriers abridging the people’s right to vote and find solutions that demolish these barriers? What can we do to ensure that the maximum of Indian citizens exercises their right to vote? Those are some of the questions I endeavor to answer today.

Citizenship Act 1955 and Article 326 provide the right to all adult citizens of India to vote for their leaders irrespective of their caste, religion, social status, and educational level. Supreme Court of India has declared the ‘right to vote’ a ‘fundamental right’ under Article 19(1), and Democracy and Free Elections are also a part of the Basic Structure of the Constitution. Only those citizens who are unstable to vote or are barred due to corrupt practices or any illegal activities relating to elections are not entitled to be a voter.

History of the right to vote in India

The first general elections in independent India were conducted in 1951 on the principles of Democracy and Universal Adult Suffrage. However, till 1946 very few Indian natives had the privilege of choosing their representatives. Only those voters who had properties, lands, and the capability to pay income and municipal taxes had this right[1].

This helped the rich and the powerful to keep the powers’ representation under check. The reforms made by the British in the 1920s gave women who owned properties and had a certain level of education and income, the privilege of electing their representatives[2]. For the first few decades after independence, women refrained from using their rights but gradually started utilizing them.

It wasn’t easy to adopt suffrage in a society with widespread poverty, a low literacy rate, and massive social inequalities. The vision of suffrage was strengthened during nationalist movements. The constituent makers thought of adopting suffrage during the times when British India and its people were being divided into two countries. They adopted this system against all odds, even before people became Indian citizens. Doing so was India’s stark act of decolonization. Universal Franchise in India reflects strong thoughts of Indian Leaders and freedom fighters. It was their courage to act on the basis of their imagination that made suffrage a political reality in India.

Barriers That Abridge an individual’s right to vote and possible Solutions to overcome them

Several barriers pose a challenge to the widespread exercise of the right to vote. From holding citizens back from voting to administrative misgivings, these challenges prevent all citizens of India from using their right to vote.

Rejection Of Applications

Millions of Indian citizens have complained about the rejection of their applications for issuing voter id cards without any justifications given thereof. In 2018,

around 66% of online applications for enrolment were rejected, that too in bulk, against 24% rejection of manual applications.

In my view, this problem can be solved if the Election Commission would make it mandatory for its officers to justify or mention the grounds for rejection of applications. Election Commission should also formulate an authority within itself for higher appeal, which would especially deal with those applications which have been rejected despite being valid. This change in the system would add a layer of accountability and ensure diligence by the officers.

Missing Names

India has enjoyed its status of being the largest democracy for several decades now. However, little attention is paid to the fact that many Indians find their names missing from the voters’ list during national and state elections. Minorities and women constitute a large number of missing voters because of which these voters are unable to use their crucial vote to elect their representatives in Parliament and State Legislature.

A few months before every election, the Election Commission produces an electoral list in the public domain. These days, this list is even made available on the internet. This allows people living in cities the opportunity to confirm their names on the electoral list. But, villagers and people belonging to lower strata lack this facility, due to which they come to know about their missing names on the day of the election, leaving them with no options.

This problem can be solved if officers and interns at Election Commission conduct camps in the villages of the respective constituency so that villagers can confirm their names and report the missing names well ahead of time, allowing for requisite correction.

Low Enrolment of Transgenders

Despite being citizens of India, it is difficult for transgenders to get their voter id cards or even contest elections. According to the 2011 census,

India has more than 4.87 lakh trans-genders out of which only 40,000 are registered as voters[3]. Since Independence, no transgender has held the position of MP in the Parliament, which means they remain unrepresented at all levels, be it national, state, or local level. Political parties shy away from giving them tickets because of their lack of a vote bank. The enrolment of transgenders remains low because of the tedious process of furnishing documents to validate their identity.

The requirement of incorporating the signatures of parents or guardians on requisite documents should be removed as a criterion, as in the majority of cases, parents do not accept transgender children and do not wish to give their signatures due to social stigma. A percentage of seats should also be reserved for people belonging to the trans community at all levels. This would ensure representation of people belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, as their social and economic conditions remain pathetic. Reserving seats would also help in increasing the participation of LGBTQ+ people in the democratic process.

Lost Votes

In the 2019 General Elections, over 290 million Indian citizens who were eligible voters with their names on the electoral list could not vote because they were absent on the day of elections. No other democracy has these many lost voters. Unfortunately, citizens who live in cities or countries other than their native places for jobs or education are deprived of their voting rights. In order to exercise this right, they have to travel all the way back to their towns. This being inconvenient and expensive, sadly leads to these voters opting out of the democratic process.

Election Commission is now considering bringing e-voting infrastructure into the picture. But till now only Telangana State Election Commission has taken steps to implement e-voting. Many developed democracies are using Blockchain technologies to secure de-identified and encrypted votes in-order to maintain immutable records. Implementing such technology on a wider scale with accountable security can solve the problem of lost votes. The e-voting can be conducted through a secure application that can be downloaded on smartphones. The votes should be polled after due verification of documents.

Lack Of Information About Candidates

Citizens face difficulties in choosing the right representatives because of the lack of information provided by these candidates and political parties, even when it has become mandatory for them to provide all relevant details. Recently, the Supreme Court has also issued a Contempt of Court against some political parties which did not provide sufficient information about their candidates to the public.

In the 2019 General Elections, around 29% of elected candidates have been charged with serious offenses including murder, kidnapping, and rape. This trend has only increased over time, which means these representatives of people with criminal backgrounds would have significantly contributed to possible degeneration and lack of development in their constituencies.

Now the question arises, why do people vote for such candidates? The primary reason is that the voters lack crucial information about these candidates because of which they vote on the basis of the caste of the candidates. Citizens seldom know of a candidate’s criminal background.

This problem can only be solved when the Election Commission produces a comparative report card of candidates from a particular constituency. The report card must contain crucial information about the criminal history, existing criminal charges, educational level, and actual developmental work done by representatives contesting elections.

This report card should be made available in the public domain through local newspapers, local news channels, the internet, and every possible avenue. This would empower voters in making better decisions and would also pressurize political parties to give their party tickets to genuine and worthy people who can contribute to the development of the nation.

Lack of Facilities For Specially-abled People

Election Commissions need to update their electoral systems as the current system does not provide infrastructure for the specially-abled. More than 80 million people in India come under this category[4]. A stark lack of facilities like ramps, wheelchair access, and more, as well as voting mechanisms for people with sight and hearing problems and insufficient material to make informed decisions are some of the defects in the electoral system.

Ramps and wheelchairs should be made available at the polling station. A specific room should also be allowed for specially-abled people. Those types of voting machines should be installed that help people with sight difficulties to choose the right candidate.

The report cards of the candidates should also be made available in NGOs where these specially-abled people reside. E-Voting would also help such people in choosing their representatives.

A very good measure has been taken by Election Commission by developing a PwD application for specially-abled people. This application empowers specially-abled people to receive various services from Election Commission ranging from casting their vote to making changes in voter id cards, at their doorstep. The government has also given specially-abled people and people above 80 years of age the to cast their votes through postal ballots.

Husbands Of Female Representatives Running Constituency

Voters are indirectly deprived of their voting rights when the husbands of their female representatives look after the affairs of the constituency. This is prevalent in constituencies where seats are reserved for female candidates.

In such cases, females remain, nominal representatives of the constituency, while their male family members exercise the main power. This malpractice is observed at all levels of government[5]. This shows how strong the grasp patriarchy still has in Indian Society. Reservations that were made to empower women are now being misused by male family members.

In such situations, the trust of voters is breached since they chose the female representative and not the male members of her family. All the crucial decisions related to the constituency are made by the male family members.

No Fresh Election When“NOTA” In Majority

Voting rights of citizens are abridged when elections are not re-conducted with new candidates when majority votes are in the favour of NOTA. When candidates vote for NOTA, it means they reject all the candidates. In such situations, the candidate who achieves the highest votes is declared elected by Election Commission.

To be fair, re-elections with fresh candidates should be conducted when voters have chosen NOTA. If this measure becomes a part of the Electoral System, political parties would start giving tickets to the educated and worthy people, who genuinely intend to do good for society.

At present, NOTA does not impact the results of elections. This weakness is being exploited by political parties as they prefer to give tickets to those people who have money and muscle power. Because of such weakness, genuine people who intend to improve the situation of the country refrain from participating in elections. This obviously hurts India and Indians as it diminishes the economic, social, political, legal, and institutional growth.

Conclusion

It is high time for the Election commission to work on these flaws and ensure that no citizen is denied this right. It is only because of this right, that India has still maintained its status of a democratic country. The right to vote is a powerful tool that can make or break the government.

In my opinion, elections are manipulated when citizens are denied the right to vote, as millions of people are denied choosing their representatives. The image of Indian democracy often becomes flawed and tainted mainly because political parties promote candidates with money and power. Every single citizen of India exercising the right to vote is the only way to weed out these unworthy candidates and ensure that worthy candidates are given the opportunity they deserve to bring about a positive impact.

Uncompromised right to vote for all is the stepping stone to India becoming a strong democracy that holds its leaders accountable for their actions. Preventing lost votes, bringing the maximum number of Indian citizens into the electoral process, furnishing detailed information about candidates, and increasing participation of minorities, women, the LGBTQ community, and other factions of society can enable the Indian diaspora to choose their leaders wisely and ensure good governance.

Achieving this level of transparency and inclusivity will also encourage youth to participate in politics, opening doors to a newer, brighter India. Disqualifying candidates when voters chose NOTA above them, making criminal records public, and ensuring equal representation at all levels are some of the ways to make the Right to Vote ubiquitous and hence empower Indian Democracy to truly become as powerful as it rightly deserves to be.


References

  1. The Government of India Act, 1919, Available Here
  2. Why Transgenders have been always ignored during the election, Available Here
  3. If Nota tops, should all the candidates be rejected, Available Here
  4. Lost Votes, Available Here
  5. Polling through mobile phones? Telangana to conduct dry run of first e-voting system in India, Available Here
  6. Jayana Kothari & David Seidenberg, Disabilities of our democracy, Available Here
  7. Sneha Alexander, Voting rights don’t boost political participation, Available Here
  8. Fine on political parties, Available Here
  9. Soumya Shankar, Not everyone has a vote in the world’s largest democracy, Available Here

Updated On 2022-04-03T03:56:52+05:30
Shubhangi Singh

Shubhangi Singh

SYMBIOSIS LAW SCHOOL, NOIDA

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