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Improving electoral reforms

Improving electoral reforms

Elections are like festivals for a democracy. A government of, for and by the people certainly has people involved in every aspect of the same. India reserved universal suffrage for its citizens upon its independence and the country has seen elections ever since. Election Commission of India (ECI) has painstakingly conducted massive general elections besides respective state elections across decades while constantly pushing for reforms to keep up with time as well as most-necessary requirements of society. From the primitive ballot papers to the modern EVMs and VVPATs as well as the introduction of NOTA in 2013; poll reforms have been imbibed in the course of time to increase efficiency. In the general elections held in 2019, India recorded the highest ever turnout of 67.4 per cent in the country's electoral history; even the women turnout of 67.18 per cent was the highest in history. Given how India's the largest democracy in the world, the country by all measures should embellish democracy and elections. India's electoral paradigm cannot be stagnant, bereft of any innovation. For starters, it has to cater to the ever-increasing voter list. In 2019, as many as 900 million people were eligible to vote. When one compares that to a voter turnout of 67 per cent — which in itself was the highest-ever voter turnout in history — almost one-third of India did not vote, or say, could not vote. ECI strives to remove any barriers that may impede a voter from casting his/her vote in stipulated time. In fact, the 2019 general elections itself witnessed some efforts to this end. ECI in 2019 general elections ensured dedicated focus on accessibility at each polling station across the country which included the provision of dedicated transport facility to PwD voters. Further, the ECI launched the c-Vigil app enabling citizens to report against any malpractices during elections. While there have been changes inculcated to further ease out the election process, there remains a number of things to be done in order to make elections more free, fair and inclusive. For instance, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Electronically transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) was for the very first time used for Service voters across the country; number of service voters rose to 18 lakhs. That said, there lies the never-ending space to improve the electoral administration in the country and ECI has to pioneer the cause. The recommendations put forward by various Working Groups that ECI constituted will indeed add value to the existing electoral structure of the country.

On Saturday, ECI put forth the list of 25 recommendations that it deems fit for improving the electoral administration of India for public feedback. Foremost is the suggestion for a single simplified form for any sort of electoral service such as registration, change of address, deletion of names, etc., as having multiple forms only compounds processes besides added confusion. The door-step electoral services for PwD and senior citizens (80+) is a good step to ensure inclusivity of all eligible voters. Online registration of prospective voters at the age of 17 at schools/colleges. Provision of e-voter ID cards in the digital world will mark convenience allowing for better mobility. A digital election calendar for information and schedule of election will serve for greater public awareness. Further, setting up of electoral literacy clubs in schools and colleges, voter awareness forums in government and private organisations, the inclusion of voter education in school curriculum, etc., will help disseminate information on elections and voters. One large concern is how a lot of people miss out on voting due to a number of reasons. While extreme emergency situations are cognisable, people missing out on voting due to non-emergency issues is a tragedy that needs to be addressed. For this, ECI must explore different voting methods for enhancing electoral participation while also ensuring a safe and secure medium so that malpractices can be prevented. Inclusion of print media and social media along with electronic media in the prohibition list during the silence period is a viable recommendation given how the former two are also strong sources of mass outreach that can be exploited. To avoid long queues, the online nomination of candidates has been suggested which will also reduce errors and ease the nomination process. The most important recommendation forwarded by the ECI is a cap on political party expenditure. When we say free and fair elections, we tend to ignore how the absence of such a cap does not make it a level playing field for all participants. In 2015, ECI had given the Ministry of Law a proposal to cap maximum expenditure of political parties to a multiple of half of the maximum prescribed limit for individual candidates with the number of candidates fielded. While there can alterations to that proposal, a cap is better than having none which allows parties to spend as much as they can; huge expenditure offers an undue advantage to certain players over others. While the ECI has batted for improvements to the electoral structure of the country, it will be prudent on voters' end to provide feedback for greater efficiency. But feedback and consolidation of all recommendations must be followed by active implementation of the same, otherwise, the process goes in vain.

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