When I met my colleague's college-going son a week ago, he was excited about the impending elections in the State; it was the first time he was to take part in a ballot. But, when I called him on the day of the elections to congratulate him for casting his vote for the first time, he sounded deeply disappointed. The reason? He was not allowed to vote, as his name was not there on the voters' list. Not only he, my colleague and her husband too faced a similar fate, despite the three of them carrying the voter's ID card issued by the Election Commission!
One other entirely different issue that I came across on the same day was that another friend of mine had received two voter's slips for two different locations – one where she had earlier lived and, the other, at her present address, notwithstanding the fact that she had lost her voter ID card which had the previous address and that she had not received the ID for the present address, for which she had applied a year ago. There were also instances where, in a family of three, two got the opportunity to vote, while one's name did not feature on the list.
Now, these are serious flaws that the Election Commission needs to look into, on a priority, as many people lose their legitimate right to vote. Another common problem we encounter with respect to the voter ID card is that the names are misspelt. This causes a major problem later, when we want to use the card for other purposes. Getting the mistake corrected is even more difficult! Therefore, it is important to ensure that names appear accurately on the card the very first time it is issued.
Another unfriendly facet during the recent elections was the inability of the voter to record his vote under Rule 49-O. As we all know, according to Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, a person can go to the respective polling booth, confirm his identity, have his finger marked with indelible ink, and then decide not to vote. Nevertheless, he will have to inform the presiding officer at the booth, but this violates the secrecy of the poll. Earlier, with the paper ballot, it was much simpler. Merely affixing the stamp on multiple candidates made the vote null and void, without infringing on confidentiality. Today, with electronic voting machines in use, it is important that in the column relating to the names of the candidates, provision should also be made for ‘NONE', to enable a voter to reject all the candidates, if he chooses to do so. An amendment to the rule should also be brought in to this effect. Wide publicity about this right should be given so that the public in a democratic set-up will be able to make their choice.
It is unfortunate that many booth officials were unaware of all the aspects relating to the polls. It is essential that they are properly educated before the elections, because, only then, will they be able to guide the voters in the right direction.
Just as it is vital for people to realise their duty and exercise their right to vote, it is also important that the modus operandi be more organised and consumer-friendly so that the public do not lose interest but participate in the elections with greater fervour.
(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details/queries contact 24914358/24460387 or firstname.lastname@example.org)