Election Process Opinion & Exit Polls Electoral Reforms
State assemblies • India is a federal country, and the Constitution gives the states and union territories significant control over their own government. The VidhanSabhas (legislative assemblies) is directly elected bodies set up to carrying out the administration of the government in the 25 States of India. In some states there is a bicameral organisation of legislatures, with both an upper and Lower House. Two of the seven Union Territories viz., the National Capital Territory of Delhi and Pondicherry, have also legislative assemblies.Elections to the VidhanSabhas are carried out in the same manner as for the LokSabha election, with the states and union territories divided into single-member constituencies, and the first-past-the-post electoral system used. The assemblies range in size, according to population. The largest VidhanSabha is for Uttar Pradesh, with 425 members; the smallest Pondicherry, with 30 members
ELECTION COMMISSION • An independent Election Commission has been established under the Constitution in order to carry out and regulate the holding of elections in India.The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950. Originally a Chief Election Commissioner ran the commission, but first in 1989 and later again in 1993 two additional Election Commissioners were appointed.The Election Commission is responsible for the conduct of elections to parliament and state legislatures and to the offices of the President and Vice-President.The Election Commission prepares, maintains and periodically updates the Electoral Roll, which shows who is entitled to vote, supervises the nomination of candidates, registers political parties, monitors the election campaign, including candidates’ funding. It also facilitates the coverage of the election process by the media, organizes the polling booths where voting takes place, and looks after the counting of votes and the declaration of results. All this is done to ensure that elections can take place in an orderly and fair manner.At present, there are two Election Commissioners appointed by the President. Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only by parliamentary impeachment.The Commission decides most matters by consensus but in case of any dissension, the majority view prevails.
Who can stand for the elections? • Any Indian citizen who is registered as a voter and is over 25 years of age is allowed to contest elections to the LokSabha or State Legislative Assemblies. For the RajyaSabha the age limit is 30 years. Candidates for the RajyaSabha and VidhanSabha should be a resident of the same state as the constituency from which they wish to contest.
ELECTORAL PROCESS • Electoral Process in India takes at least a month for state assembly elections with the duration increasing further for the General Elections. Publishing of electoral rolls is a key process that happens before the elections and is vital for the conduct of elections in India. The Indian Constitution sets the eligibility of an individual for voting. Any person who is a citizen of India and above 18 years of age is eligible to enroll as a voter in the electoral rolls. It is the responsibility of the eligible voters to enroll their names. Normally, voter registrations are allowed latest one week prior to the last date for nomination of candidates. • Pre elections: At first before the elections the dates of nomination, polling and counting takes place. The model code of conduct comes in force from the day the dates are announced. No party is allowed to use the government resources for campaigning. The code of conduct stipulates that campaigning be stopped 48 hours prior to polling day. • Voting day: Government schools and colleges are chosen as polling stations. The Collector of each district is in charge of polling. Government employees are employed to many of the polling stations. Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are being increasingly used instead of ballot boxes to prevent election fraud via booth capturing, which is heavily prevalent in certain parts of India. An indelible ink is applied usually on the left index finger of the voter as an indicator that the voter has cast his vote. This practice has been followed since the 1962 general elections to prevent bogus voting.
campaign • The campaign is the period when the political parties put forward their candidates and arguments with which they hope to persuade people to vote for their candidates and parties. Candidates are given a week to put forward their nominations. These are scrutinised by the Returning Officers and if not found to be in order can be rejected after a summary hearing. Validly nominated candidates can withdraw within two days after nominations have been scrutinised. The official campaign lasts at least two weeks from the drawing up of the list of nominated candidates, and officially ends 48 hours before polling closes.During the election campaign the political parties and contesting candidates are expected to abide by a Model Code of Conduct evolved by the Election Commission on the basis of a consensus among political parties. The model Code lays down broad guidelines as to how the political parties and candidates should conduct themselves during the election campaign. It is intended to maintain the election campaign on healthy lines, avoid clashes and conflicts between political parties or their supporters and to ensure peace and order during the campaign period and thereafter, until the results are declared. The model code also prescribes guidelines for the ruling party either at the Centre or in the State to ensure that a level field in maintained and that no cause is given for any complaint that the ruling party has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign.Once an election has been called, parties issue manifestos detailing the programmes they wish to implement if elected to government, the strengths of their leaders, and the failures of opposing parties and their leaders. Slogans are used to popularise and identify parties and issues, and pamphlets and posters distributed to the electorate. Rallies and meetings where the candidates try to persuade, cajole and enthuse supporters, and denigrate opponents, are held throughout the constituencies. Personal appeals and promises of reform are made, with candidates travelling the length and breadth of the constituency to try to influence as many potential supporters as possible. Party symbols abound, printed on posters and placards
LIMIT ON POLL EXPENSES • There are tight legal limits on the amount of money a candidate can spend during the election campaign. In most LokSabha constituencies the limit as recently amended in December, 1997 is Rs 15,00,000/-, although in some States the limit is Rs 6,00,000/- (for VidhanSabha elections the highest limit is Rs 6,00,000/-, the lowest Rs 3,00,000/-). Although supporters of a candidate can spend as much as they like to help out with a campaign, they have to get written permission of the candidate, and whilst parties are allowed to spend as much money on campaigns as they want, recent Supreme Court judgements have said that, unless a political party can specifically account for money spent during the campaign, it will consider any activities as being funded by the candidates and counting towards their election expenses. The accountability imposed on the candidates and parties has curtailed some of the more extravagant campaigning that was previously a part of Indian elections.
"None of the above" voting option: "None of the above" is a proposed voting option in India that would allow voters who support none of the candidates available to them to register an official vote of "none of the above", which is not currently allowed under India election regulation.The Election Commission of India told the Supreme Court in 2009 that it wished to offer the voter a None of the above button on voting machines; the government, however, has generally opposed this option. • Post elections: After the election day, the EVMs are stored in a strong room under heavy security. After the different phases of the elections are complete, a day is set to count the votes. The votes are tallied typically, the verdict is known within hours. The candidate who has mustered the most votes is declared the winner of the constituency. • The party or coalition that has won the most seats is invited by the President to form the new government. The coalition or party must prove its majority in the floor of the house (LokSabha) in a vote of confidence by obtaining a simple majority (minimum 50%) of the votes in the house. • Voter registration: For few cities in India, the voter registration forms can be generated online and submitted to the nearest electoral office.
OPINION & EXIT POLLS • Exit poll as the name suggests is the poll carried out when the voters exit from the polling booth. In other words, it is a kind of survey carried out by various non-governmental organisations (news channels, press etc.) to know about the possible outcome of the polls and made predictions based on the information collected. In this process the voters are enquired about the party they had voted for when they came out of the polling station/booth.
Exit Poll vs Opinion Poll • Some people get confused between exit polls and opinion polls. Actually, when voters are asked about the party they had voted for after they have given the vote, it is called exit poll. But, when voters are asked about the party they have decided to vote before they have actually voted, it is called opinion poll.
BAN ON EXIT POLLS • The Election Commission of India had banned the disclosure or dissemmination of results of the opinion polls during 48 hours before the end of the poll, for single-phased elections. In case of multi-phased elections, the Election Commission had put a blanket ban on the exit polls till the last round of voting is over.The decision from the EC has come following a notification from the Supreme Court of India. In its notification the SC had said that EC has the right and authority to put a ban on the exit and opinion polls during election time and it should implement the ban.Actually, the decision was taken by the bench of K.G. Balakrishnan, Honb'le Chief Justice of India and Justice P Sathasivam. “The Election Commission is free to frame its guidelines to regulate publication of exit polls” said the bench on a petition seeking ban on such surveys. Finally, the Commission issued guidelines according to which, “No result of any opinion or exit poll conducted at any time shall be published, publicised or disseminated in any manner by print, electronic or any other media at any time during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for closing of poll in an election held in a single phase.” This order will be applicable to all the states and territories in which the elections are going to held in different phases.
ELECTORAL REFORMS IN INDIA • Electoral reform is change in electoral systems to improve how public desires are expressed in election results. • This entails all the stages from the nomination of the candidates till the counting of the votes. • The system is itself judged impartially and several changes are advised. • Gauging the Voters’ security and participation in the electoral system.
Recent implications: • Candidate Disclosure: On May 2, the SC held that citizens have the fundamental right to know the antecedents of candidates for elective office, as part of freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution. But Section 33A of the Amendment Act provided for disclosure of only part of the criminal record. No other disclosure including assets and liabilities of candidates was required. • VERDICT: TheSupreme Court on March 13, 2003 declared that obtaining relevant information about the candidates is indeed a fundamental right under Article 19 (1), and as the Parliament had no power to make such a law abridging fundamental rights [Article 13 (2)], such a law is void. • Experience shows that major parties will refrain from nominating new candidates with criminal record, provided people‘s movements are strong enough to make candidate choice a key issue.
The Election and Other Related Laws (Amendment Bill, 2003) (Funding Reform Bill): • Accountable and legitimate political party expenditure and campaign finance is at the heart of the fight against corruption. IMPACT: • Full tax exemption to individuals and corporateson all contributions to political parties. • Effective repeal of Explanation 1 under Section 77 of The Representation of the People Act 1951 – expenditure by third parties and political parties will now come under ceiling limits. Only travel expenditure of leaders of parties is exempt. • Disclosure of party finances and contributions over Rs 20,000 • Equitable sharing of time by the recognized political parties on the cable television network and other electronic media (public and private).
PROPOSED REFORMS: • The scandals and controversies that marked the 14th LokSabha (2004-09) and the recent events after the general elections in India were announced, where smaller and regional parties have held bigger parties to ransom over various issues like that of seat-sharing, have once again highlighted the urgent need of electoral reforms in India. Some of the recommendations given below have been widely discussed in various forums and have found acceptability among various policy-making organizations including the Election Commission of India. It is high time that they are implemented in the earnest.
Abolish the first-past-the-post system: • This has been amongst the most widely discussed electoral reforms in India. Multi-cornered contests have become a norm in India rather than an exception due to the increase in the number of smaller and regional parties. • There have been cases in the state assembly elections where a candidate has been declared winner with the victory margin of less than 100 votes. Apart from this anomaly, in most cases, a candidate wins the election by securing just 30-35 per cent of the total number of votes polled. Hence he or she cannot be deemed to be a choice of majority of the electorate. • To overcome this limitation, the first-past-the-post system should be replaced with a two-stage electoral process. In this, a second round of election will be held if none of the candidates in the fray is able to get 50 per cent of the total number of votes polled in the first round. • The two candidates who have obtained the maximum number of votes in the first round will fight in the second round. Whoever between the two gets more than 51 per cent of the total votes polled in the second round is declared the winner.
Allowing negative/neutral voting: • This will allow a voter to express his dissent by rejecting all the candidates contesting in his constituency if he finds none or them suitable to be elected. • Currently a large number of people do not go to the polling booth because of their disenchantment with the candidates put up by the political parties. This is reflected in the falling poll percentages. • Democracy in India will be strengthened if people participate in large numbers in the electoral process and have a choice to reject all the candidates instead of being forced to select one who they think is less bad than the others in the fray.
THE PROBLEM OF LOW VOTER TURNOUT • After increasing for many decades, there has been a trend of decreasing voter turnout in most established democracies since the 1960s. • For example, in the United States 2008 presidential election turnout was 63% and 68% among African Americans (generally credited to Barack Obama's candidacy). • In Australia, which has compulsory voting, and Malta, which does not, participation reaches 95%. These differences are caused by a mix of cultural and institutional factors. • In Australia there is a high proportion of unregistered voters, and once this is taken into consideration, the proportion of eligible voters who vote is only 81%. Australia
Ban on publication of exit/opinion polls results till voting is over for all phases: • To ensure free and fair elections in India, the election commission holds them in different phases so that the available security staff is effectively deployed. Publishing the result of opinion poll on the earlier phases will have an impact on the voting pattern in the subsequent phases. Similarly, the opinion polls that are conducted before the election also influences the voting pattern. Hence there is a need to put a ban on the publication of the results of the exit/opinion polls conducted by various media agencies till all the phases of elections are over.