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RSTV IAS UPSC – Importance of Voting
Published on Feb. 8, 2019, 8:38 a.m.

Importance of Voting

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TOPIC: General studies 2 
  • Indian polity; Government laws and policies; Policy reforms 
  • Democratic governance and society

In News: This year, India is celebrating its 9th National Voters Day on January 25. The voters' day celebration was initiated in 2011 by the then President of India, Pratibha Devi Patil, on the 61st foundation day of Election Commission of India. National Voters' Day 2019 was celebrated in over six lakh locations covering about ten lakh polling stations all over the country. 'No voter to be left behind' is the chosen theme for this year's celebration and it is also the focus in the upcoming Lok Sabha Elections.

In a democracy, elections offer every citizen an opportunity to choose a representative. Creating, correcting and maintaining a democracy is important for every member in varying degrees, and is in essence a public good.

Why is voting important for democratic countries?

“Casting vote is a sacred duty and those who do not use the democratic right should feel the ‘pain’ of not exercising their franchise.” – PM Narendra Modi

  • Voting is a basic process that helps to form a country's government. One can choose their representatives through voting.
  • Voting rights enables people with the right to question the government about issues and clarifications.
  • It also provides a sense of freedom to express opinion in major decision making for the benefit of the country in a democratic nation.

Costs that the voter is willing to pay, if ready to vote

The costs aren’t limited to taking the time out to vote, finding your polling booth or standing in the winding queues all morning, but also acquiring information about the candidates, campaign promises, and most importantly, analysing who is good for you and your fellow constituents.

Despite this, voters might like to vote to signal that they care about contributing to this public good. Numerous empirical studies have shown that a combination of a sense of civic duty, moral responsibility and social pressure brings voters to the polling booths. Once a voter has decided to turn up, then she might as well vote for the candidate that she prefers, even if it is a mild preference. That still makes her go through the cognitively demanding task.

  • One solution is economic voting—you re-elect the party/candidate if the economy is doing well and vote them out otherwise and this can be seen from our national election data as well.
  • Another option is to look at elections as a grade card on incumbents—reject an office holder who did not meet your expectations in general or re-elect and retain the ones who did.

Then there is whole other issue – Voting remains home-bound

While millions criss-cross the country for work, the vote remains homebound as there is little effort to make it possible for migrant workers to vote from where they are. After each election, parties look to the Election Commission (EC) to find out the percentage of people who voted for them. But what often gets overlooked is the number of people who did not turn up to vote — even though sometimes their number is higher than the winning margin. True, there are some who don’t vote because they couldn’t care less. But there are many who are very involved but can’t vote because they are not registered in the place where they are “ordinarily resident”. A large number of them are migrant workers, who are enrolled in their native places but have moved elsewhere for work.

Section 20 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act says a person can be registered as a voter in any constituency where he is “ordinarily resident”. In case he migrates to another constituency, all he needs to do is fill up a voter enrolment form at the new place while requesting that his name be deleted from the old list.

However, not many migrants, most of whom are poor and not very educated, bother to have themselves enrolled every time they move to a new place for work. The process of enrolling takes time. It requires the migrant worker to submit proof of the new residence, which is not always available. On voting day, not many migrant workers can go to their native place to vote, as their employers may not give them leave or they may not be able to afford the journey. So, they end up not voting.

What they obviously need is a facility allowing them to vote from where they are. This is a facility the government wants to introduce for NRIs, with the Lok Sabha passing a bill last August to amend the RP Act for facilitating proxy voting by NRIs from their countries of residence. But there’s no such plan to facilitate voting for domestic migrants.

Tata Institute of Social Sciences had the following suggestions for EC to increase voter participation at polls:

  • The “ordinarily resident” clause for enrolling as a voter should be treated as multi-local identity for internal migrants. EC says one has to be “ordinarily resident of the part or polling area of the constituency” where they want to be enrolled, which means one’s residential address is tied to the place of voting
  • Political parties should debate the suitability of multiple voting mechanisms like postal, proxy, absentee, early and e-voting
  • The short-term/seasonal migrants should be identified, especially among workers belonging to the poor and disadvantaged sections
  • The Contract Labour and The Inter-state Migrant Workmen (Regulation Of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979, needs effective implementation. The Act aims to regulate the employment and safeguard interests of inter-state migrant workers, and as such requires registration of establishments employing them. That would provide a database of migrants for improving voter participation
  • Voter ID and Aadhaar number should be merged to aid portability of voting rights
  • A common, singlepoint, one-time voluntary registration system should be introduced at the destination place for migrant workers
  • Electoral support services should be provided for migrants at the source and destination areas
  • EC should organise campaigns to raise awareness about voting rights among domestic migrants
  • Helplines should be opened for migrants at their destination place, with staff speaking different languages

Note: The Constitution (Sixty-First Amendment) Act, 1988 had lowered the threshold voting age from 21 years to 18 years.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Illustrate the contribution of Election Commission in strengthening democracy in India.  
  2. Active participation in a democracy should be voluntary. Is compulsory voting against democracy? Substantiate your answer with a critical examination of the above statement.