Practice Question – Why has the debate on the requirement of the implementation of ‘compulsory voting’ has resurfaced in India? Describe the challenges in the implementation of such a scheme. – 250 words.
What is compulsory voting?
Compulsory voting is a system in which citizens are required by law to vote in elections or at least attend a polling place on voting day. If an eligible voter does not attend a polling place, he or she may be punished with fines or community service.
Why compulsory voting is required?
- Though the overall voter turnout has witnessed an increasing trend in general terms, compulsory voting will ensure more participation in the areas that witness very low voter turnout.
- Ensuring that the voter realises his/her duty in interest of a vibrant democracy.
- Compulsory voting will strengthen democracy and the concept of federalism.
- Will prevent the extremists and lobbyists from grabbing power.
- Improves voter turnout and ensures that the democratic process is truly working.
- It prevents disenfranchisement of the socially disadvantaged, through bribes or covert threats.
- Studies also show a correlation between compulsory voting and improved income distribution too.
- Legal Challenges – Compulsory voting may be challenged for being in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India and to be held against the liberty of the individual. The act of voting should be voluntary and not coerced. Supreme Court has also recognised the right to choose one’s candidate as the expression of ones’s freedom of speech and expression under Article 19. Compulsory voting may be in violation of Article 19 as well. Moreover, the Election Commission is of the view that “freedom of expression means not only the right to vote but would also include the right not to vote”. Also, the 255th Law Commission Report, says “electoral right” of the voter includes the right to “vote or refrain from voting at an election.”
- Direct violation of section 79 of the Representation of Peoples Act – which says “electoral right” means the right of a person…..to vote or refrain from voting at an election.
- Regulatory challenges – Clear rules must be laid down explaining the actions to be taken in case of violation of compulsory voting. Courts and tribunals must be set up to adjudicate on the genuine cases of violation.
- Practical challenges – Tackling practical issues like illness of the voter, old age of voters, location in remote/disaster affected areas, problems faced by daily wage labourers etc.
- Ensuring accessibility of polling booths. Remoteness of polling booths may create unnecessary difficulties for people.
- Creating an enabling environment for voters like timely issue of voter ID cards, timely updation of electoral rolls.
- The Australian experience with compulsory voting has revealed the notion of “donkey voting” – where when voters were forced to vote – they voted for the candidate whose name was on the top of the candidates’ list.
- There is also a real fear that compulsory voting may lead to more vote buying by candidates especially in a country like India, where we have seen instances of – cash-for-vote scams – where legislators were bought over by money power.
- Making voting compulsory also kills the option of not voting as a protest.
- Increasing voter turnout – The 2019 Lok Sabha elections clocked a record turnout of 67.11%, beating the previous turnout of 65.95% notched up in 2014, according to tentative data released by the Election Commission (EC). The participation of woman voters has also increased over time. In light of this data, enforcing compulsory voting may not be an immediate requirement as the voter turnout is increasing even without compulsory voting.
- A wider consensus and discussion among the stakeholders is required.
- A world view provides a mixed view of the regulations regarding compulsory voting. Countries like Belgium, Australia, Singapore etc have introduced compulsory voting however, countries like Austria, Italy Netherlands had the provisions of compulsory voting under their laws but have repealed them. Globally, as many as 29 countries have experimented with compulsory voting. Presently, around 11 countries enforce these rules. For example, Australia and Belgium levy fines, while Brazil and Peru restrict access to state benefits and social security if one doesn’t vote. But Chile, Fiji, the Netherlands and Venezuela have abandoned compulsory voting.