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Voting with your fingertips

N. Gopalaswami
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Every October, the Election Commission begins the annual exercise of revising the electoral rolls with the following January 1 as the effective date. This October, there was another important news — the launching of Aadhar enabled service delivery in Dudu in Rajasthan. The EC and Aadhar can meet and let us see where and how.

The Commission undertakes two types of revisions of electoral rolls — ‘summary revision’ and ‘intensive revision.’ In the former, responsibility is cast on the potential voter to get himself registered by going to the designated centre. In the latter, door-to-door verification is undertaken by the Commission’s officers, the electoral roll is prepared afresh and this is generally done in States where a general election to the Assembly is due the following year. Over the years, computerisation of records and integration of voters’ photographs in the electoral rolls have helped make for a more error-free roll. They have also helped in undertaking various analyses to gauge the health of the electoral roll.

Change in numbers

It is now possible to quickly analyse by constituency and polling station the increase and decrease in the number of electors; based on the Census-given indicators of population growth, mid-term population figures and its age-wise distribution, pick out constituencies and polling stations that show a high deviation or, in other words, an abnormal increase or decrease in the number of voters. This helps to focus attention on constituencies and polling stations that need further checks and verification for mistakes in the electoral rolls. To quote an instance, immediately before the 2006 general elections to the Kerala Assembly, after an analysis on the above lines, the CEO of Kerala was able to pick two Assembly constituencies — one each in Kasargod and Palghat — that showed an abnormal increase in the number of electors. A special check ordered by the Commission, under the supervision of two senior officers, one from Karnataka and the other from Tamil Nadu, revealed large-scale duplication of names in the polling stations on the Kerala side with polling stations in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu respectively. In the Kasargod Assembly constituency, about 5000 duplicate (bogus) voters were deleted. Incidentally, that figure matched the margin of victory in the previous election!

With computerisation, it is also possible now to compare the electors in different age groups in the rolls with the Census given percentage of population in different age groups. Not surprisingly, it has been found that in most States, there is under-enrolment of electors mainly in the age group of 18 to 25, which made the Commission take up a special campaign for enrolling first-time voters. Such analyses, which began on an all-India basis in November 2008, are now de rigueur .

Establishing identity

While establishing a voter’s identity at the polling station on the day of election has become easier with the photo electoral roll, problems of missing or left-out voters still remain. The problem is more acute in metropolitan towns because of high level of inter-State, intra-State and intra-town movement of electors. Rural areas too have this problem even though migration of rural labour from one part of the State to another, as also across States, is seasonal. It results in large-scale deletions from the electoral rolls or absentees on the day of polling — a temptation to impersonation.

EPIC as proof

The Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC) given by the Election Commission as a proof of identity is also used as a proof of address and, so, most electors try to keep it safe. However, many are still under the misconception that the card indicating the name of the constituency and the polling station is not a valid document if the elector shifts to a different Assembly constituency. The EC has time and again reiterated that the card is primarily to identify an elector and therefore can be used in any polling station in India to which the elector has moved, even if it does not show his current address, provided he is enrolled in that place as an elector. A reason why an elector moving to a new area ignores the old EPIC is because it carries the old address; he would rather have a new one incorporating his current address to be able to use it as address proof.

The EC can overcome this problem if (a) it sets up a system by which the poll machinery in the new location recognises the EPIC through a shortened procedure of computer-based search, and effects hassle-free enrolment at the new polling station; (b) there is quick replacement of cards, for a fee, effecting the change only in the address but retaining the unique number.

It is important to make it attractive for electors to retain the old card with the unique number intact while s/he applies for the new one, as that will help EC officials trace the voter to his/her earlier constituency, consequently, to include the voter in the new constituency and delete his or her name from the old place. Simultaneously, the new card carrying the new address of the voter will fulfil his need for its use as proof of address or residence.

With the advent of the Aadhar card, it is time the Commission moved to incorporating the Aadhar number in the electoral roll. Thereafter, the Commission can move towards a system where changes in the electoral roll can be effected literally with one’s fingertips. It will also open up the possibility of voter identification at the polling station using either iris or fingerprint. Since Aadhar, unlike EPIC, will be issued to those below the age of 18 also, bringing on record new voters will also become much easier as Aadhar records can provide the details of all those who complete 18 years as on January 1 of a year, enabling the Commission to bring them on the rolls.

If the Aadhar information is used with proper safeguards, it will also be possible to avoid the deletion of names of seasonally migrating agricultural labourers, because based on the Aaadhar information and verification using the iris or finger prints, it will be possible for a migrant from, say, Bihar working in Chennai, to be enrolled in his native village — of course, with a little help from the election law by way of a change in the definition of the term “ordinarily resident.” In the normal course, the migrant working in Chennai cannot be enrolled in his native village, even if it is in Tamil Nadu. But if an NRI living in the United States can be incorporated in the electoral roll of his village or town in India, even when he is not ‘ordinarily resident’ there — the facility has been afforded to him by an amendment to the law — nothing should prevent a similar concession being extended to a migrant within the country.

Vote transfers

However, at the moment, the law may still stipulate that he can vote only if he is physically present on the date of polling at the place where he is a voter. If e-KYC can effect cash transfers, why not vote transfers? So the day need not be far away when a remote-voting solution emerges to combine the Aadhar information of identity with the facility to wire transfer the vote, making it possible for an elector residing in one part of the country to cast his vote in a polling station in another part where he is a registered voter. Not just to migrant voters, such a facility will be a great boon to armed forces personnel and those of the paramilitary forces and police, who live and serve on duty far away from the places where they are voters and are therefore not able to exercise their franchise, notwithstanding the postal ballot facility they are entitled to. But for all these, the first step has to be the incorporation of Aadhar number in the electoral roll. One looks forward to the EC undertaking this exercise sooner than later.

(The writer is former Chief Election Commissioner)

The incorporation of the Aadhar number

in the electoral rolls will help to minimise malpractices and enable more people to participate in elections

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