Compulsory voting is not the answer
Posted September 25, 2010on:
The Gujarat government is trying to enact a law to make voting compulsory in the elections to the local self-government bodies. The State Assembly had passed a bill to this effect last year but it was returned by Governor Kamla Beniwal with the noting that the bill violated Article 19(1) (A) of the Constitution which guaranteed freedom of expression that also included right not to vote. This month the Gujarat government once again introduced the bill in the Assembly without making any changes.
The demand for making voting compulsory in elections has been occasionally raised by influential persons. V.Narayanasamy of the Congress had even introduced some time back a private member’s bill in Rajya Sabha seeking enactment of a law making voting compulsory in elections in India. The others who have supported compulsory voting include Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani, foreign minister S.M.Krishna and former Chief Election Commissioner N.Gopalaswamy. All of them have cited mostly Australia as the model. Belgium, Argentina, Greece, Mexico, Singapore, Switzerland and Brazil are some of the other countries where voting is compulsory.
The idea is laudable but it is not practicable in this country where over 90 crore of its citizens are eligible to vote. With all the resources of the Central and State Governments at the disposal of the Election Commission, this august body had never been able to prepare flawless voters’ lists or ensure that some of the voters do not figure in more than one list. In spite of its painstaking exercise before every election, the Election Commission had to cope with numerous complaints at the time of the polling.
Just making a law will not bring about a miracle. If such a law is enacted, where shall we get the massive manpower to ensure enrolment of all eligible voters, keep their track at the time of voting and prepare and send summonses to those who fail to turn up at the polling booths? It will also mean further clogging of the courts already burdened under the monumental backlogs.
In Bolivia (population less than one crore, literacy rate more than 87 per cent) if a person does not vote, his three months’ salary is withdrawn as a punitive measure. If such a law is made in India, at the most the governments can take action against their employees. What about those working in private organisations and those who do not get a salary because they do not have regular jobs? More than half the population in India belongs to this category.
Perhaps a more realistic approach to the problem will be to link enrolment as a voter with incentives and disincentives. Today being (or non-being) a voter virtually amounts to nothing, unless one has an inclination to contest an election or is keen to support a particular party or candidate. The voting right of Shiva Sena Supremo Bal Tahckeray was suspended by the court as punishment for his inflammatory speeches/writings. How did it affect him or his nefarious activities in any way?
If enlistment as a voter is made necessary for, say, procuring a passport, getting a ration card, buying or selling a property, opening a bank account, applying for a job, getting one’s children admitted to a school or college and such other things, it will diametrically change the attitude of the people. Now the government employees assigned by the Election Commission to update the voters’ lists rarely receive a courteous reception when they visit the households. Sometimes they are even treated in a cavalier manner by the people.
However, this will all change if being a voter is linked with incentives and disincentives. Then it will be the individuals who will take the trouble to see that they are enlisted as the voters. Once they take the trouble to ensure that their names are on the voters’ list, it will affect them psychologically and it is likely to shed at least part of their “apathy” at the time of polling, of which N.Gopalaswamy had complained. This alone, though, is not enough to enthuse the voters to go to the polling booths and cast their votes. The faulty election laws should also be changed.