Improvements in the Electoral Process
In the current elections, I was not allowed to vote as my name was deleted from the voter list in an arbitrary manner. I have been staying the same house (my own residence) for the last 10 yrs, have a valid voter ID card and have voted in all the elections at all levels in the last 10 yrs. To top that, our house is never locked. Obviously the enumerator was too lazy to come house to house and randomly decided to label it as (S) shifted. Of course, I have lodged a complaint and requested the Chief electoral officer if the process can be improved such that this does not happen again.
But this set me thinking. What are the things that can be improved. These are constructive suggestions, ie am not suggesting the election commission does a bad job. It does a marvels organised job on such a scale in many ways. However, there are a lot of things that can be improved.
Please read through and give your thougths and further suggestions. I plan to refine this based on your feedback, weed out the bad ideas, make a neat little document and send it to EC. Dont expect much out of it, but might get somebody thinking !
1. Voting mechanism
There has been much discussion on the importance of having a paper trail in voting. The idea being that if the EVM(electronic voting machine) is tampered with or malfunctions, there is no way of knowing, however having a paper trail is relatively foolproof. The author thinks that the paper trail should be available, to ensure that there is no tampering with the process, and equally important of keeping the perception that the process is clean and transparent.
It cannot however be argued, that the EVM has considerably simplified the whole process. No more cumbersome loads of paper, ease of transporting and counting, no more booth capturing etc. Can the benefits of both be combined ? Probably yes.
One way one can think of Paper Trail, use small size paper as a printout, much like the bill you see in card swipe machines. The paper being only 10cm x 4 cm approx, makes it not at all cumbersome to carry around and has information only of the symbol voted.
The issue with this the extra electronics and cost associated as well as battery back up required. However, since there are only a few known symbols to be printed, this can be reduced to a simple electro-mechanical device which essentially does the stamping function, previously done by the voter. Previously, in paper voting, all the symbols were there and the voter had to select one. Instead, if we turn that around and the voter in effect is stamping (through) the machine only the symbol of interest, that reduces the paper burden at the very minimum. In short, it is possible to design an uncomplicated, selective electro-mechanical stamper which does the function based on the electronic vote cast. And this way, one can get a paper trail without the associated negatives of a paper trail.
2. Second preference or even third preference voting
In a true democracy, one votes for the candidate who one feels is most capable of taking care of the constituency's interest or at least the voters intrest. And that is that. However, here even if one has a most preferred candidate, one may not vote for him if the voter feels the candidate does not have a good chance of winning. In other words, the voter is already second guessing other voters, the other voters have already influenced this voter. This goes against the spirit of democracy, wherein one votes ones intent without undue influence or force by other parties. This is a much more serious problem than the exit poll that the Election commission has banned.
Nowadays, this has gone to one extreme. In the multi-polar contests that we are witnessing, a voter may like Candidate X the most, but will vote for Candidate Z, not because Candidate Z is his next preference, but because candidate Z has the best likelihood of beating Candidate Y, whom he does not want to see elected. Is this democracy or russian roulete ?
The way out of this in the current multi-party system is to have second preference or even third preference votes. So if the first preference votes do not add to 50% of the votes polled, then one counts the second preference votes and so on. So a person having his heart on candidate X, he will vote for candidate X without bothering about electoral arithmetic, knowing if the person is not in contention, his second preference vote will be used.
Is this hard to implement ? No. Whether with EVM or paper voting, its quite easy to do this. Is it complicated for the voter ? No. If the voter can do the above mentioned arithmetic, and now days everybody has a cellphone and easily dials 10 digits, how difficult is it to explain to the voter to do a 1,2,3 ordering of preferences. Of course the option is always available to the voter not to give 2nd or 3rd preference, if he is firm on only one candidate. To extend that, the voter can also be given an option not to cast even his 1st preference (none of the above), which has been requested by some.
To facilitate voter training, a dummy machine can always be placed outside the booth where he can understand and practice(if need be) so that it does not take up the actual voting time.
3. Filtering out of Non serious candidates and parties
Nowadays, one finds a long list of candidates and the corresponding symbols in a polling booth. Except the top 3 or 4, the others will get votes which can be counted on ones fingers, or in any case are absolutely inconsequential. One should have at the most a max of 5 candidates in the electoral roll. Too many candidates just adds to the burden of all concerned, voter to scan, there is a greater possiblity of mistake, more symbols means more clutter, more work for election commission, more paper if it is a paper based system, more counting etc. Not to mention more money spent in campaigning, more noise and pollution.
Hence there must be some qualification, ie some way of weeding out the non-serious candidates. Non-return of the small deposit is inconsequential in todays elections. One suggestion is that either the candidate or the party has to have won an election at that or next lower level either in the same constituency or any adjoining constituency in the last 15 yrs. So for an MLA election, one victory in any ward(corporator) in that constituency or any contigous constituency by that party or individual. Similarly for MP, a victory in an assembly election in the same parlimentary or contigous parlimentary constituency in the last 15 yrs. (If not a victory, then has to have polled 20% of the votes polled at any level ... that is quite liberal)
There could be others. The non-refundable deposit amount can be hiked to the amount allowed for campaigning, that is Rs 16 lakhs ? Or one has to get signatures of 1% of the voters (translates to rougly 2000 voters in an assembly election). Whatever is the method, it should ensure only serious candidates are in the fray without it be misused to stop a genuine candidate. The methods mentioned in the previous paragraph carry more appeal, because it ensures that candidates work from bottom up, as it should be.
4. Creation of electoral roles, validity and deletions
Change in the way electoral roles are created
Fundamentally, to change the system to a house based rather than person based.ie A polling booth caters to all houses in a locality and the residents living in them. This is a little different from having a list of people who stay nearby, though the intent is similar. The primarily list is is a list of residences and then the voting rights are given to people residing in them. So when a person comes to the polling booth, you first check the residence, and then check if the person is a valid resident of that residence.
There are a number of advantages of this system. For one, there is no confusion of which polling booth, since a polling booth always caters to a given list of residences in that geographical area/locality. People move around, but houses dont. Once a building is constructed, it stays for decades. Its easy for a person to check if there has been a misuse, he can always check if in his house, somebody else is been shown to be staying. In the current system, if extra incorrect names crop up in the voting list, one has no way of knowing. There is pressure on both, the Election commission as well as the voter. The Election commission, because it cannot arbitrarily say a house is empty or does not exist, is forced to account for every voter. The voter, because he will be worried if somebody else is shown staying in his house, the idea is very uncomfortable, and that can be misused. A list of valid owners is easy to obtain from the muncipal office and if the owner is not staying, one only needs valid rental agreements to check against the original owners. People are very worried about their property and this becomes an extra legal check for them to ensure that their names are present against the house.
This can be extended to slums as well. In any case it is better than the current system.
Currently, the election commission checks every now and then, the updated or valid list of voters. A number of names get arbitrarily deleted in the process. Otherwise the election commission has no way of knowing if a person has died or moved out of the area. Instead the election ID card should be with a valid by date (say 5 yrs), so the onus is on the individual to renew it and non-existent voters naturally get weeded out.
My experience, my name got deleted without the enumerator every coming to check the house. It was less work for him to not come to the area and mark as (S) shifted. The solution, enumerator must specify who else is staying in the house. He cannot just say house is empty, that would then presume that the person was out when the enumerator had come. Once a valid voter ID is created, the onus is on the Election commission to disprove it, not the other way around. Alternatively, the above principle (mentioned in the paragraph Validity) can be used.
5. Electoral malpractices
Taking photograph of voter and compared with photograph list or photograph and height ?
This can be cross-verified at a later date. This will put the fear in the voter that he can be 'caught' even later and a jail sentence of say 6 months can be given. Just having his photograph and height or any other identification can discourage these voters. Nowdays, with digital electronics this does not cost much.
Buying of votes
Combing booths while counting at least at ward level (10,000) votes, that makes it very difficult to identify the bulk bought votes. This is a major problem today.
Voter education, consistently giving the message that your vote cannot be known. Making buying and selling of votes a jailable offence of upto 6 months in jail. Displaying this at the booth and mandatory telling voter his rights and responsiblities at the booth in a few sentences.
6. Fixed day for elections
Having a fixed day in the year when elections are to be started for any election anywhere in the country. (As happens in US, but this is fixed only to particular day, not the year itself). That takes out ambiguity, helps govt. and other officials plan around it, ensures it does not clash with festivals or flooding, school exams etc.
The flip side is if the parliment gets dissolved out of turn, say 1 month after the date, then one has to wait fo 10 months before election, that is a few months more than what typically happens now. That may not be a bad thing. If that is not satisfactory then one can have two fixed dates in the year, approximately 6 months apart.
7. Campaigning facilitation
The election commission can facilitate campaigning in a non-partisan manner. That would reduce the use of money and help put a level playing field. Things it coud do .. mainfesto sharing, create a booklet and post to each house. In that booklet every candidate gets the same number of pages to put in on why one should vote for him. Hold publically held debates (ward wise for assembly elections) and assembly constituency wise for parlimentary elections. The idea is whoever is intrested in knowing about the candidates has a standard means of doing so. This removes some of the campaigning money required, or reduces the impact of money in elections of atleast the marketing part. Fixed times for “talk to the candidate shows” on television, radio etc locally. But for these it is neccessary that there are a limited number of candidates in the election to start with.