Citizens have started debating about the Gujarat government’s new bill seeking compulsory voting in local body elections. While some of them are in favour of the bill some others are opposed to it. As per the bill action will be taken against a person who fails to exercise his franchise during local body polls. The Gujarat government is yet to notify the bill as there is possibility of huge opposition from citizens and opposition parties. Elections to local bodies in Gujarat are scheduled to be held in mid-2015. Narendra Modi who had also emphasised about the need for a legislation to bring compulsory voting is in favour of bringing similar laws across India. Even if the law is not introduced nationwide the BJP ruled states might introduce it.
Last week, the Bombay High Court (HC) had questioned the low turnouts in Mumbai and asked the Centre if it had a policy to deal with those who did not vote. Even though the government has declared the voting day as a holiday but often people don’t come out and vote. They instead choose to go for a trip, watch movies or go for shopping at the malls. Citizen groups have been appealing to voters to come forward and exercise their franchise. The Election Commission too had held the assembly election in the middle of the week so that more voters cast their vote. Earlier it has been observed that people had gone on a holiday when election was held on a weekend. The media too is playing a vital role by urging people to vote. Plenty of money is being spent on advertisement to create awareness among voters about the importance of voting. However citizens lack the will to participate in the voting process.
If compulsory voting is enforced then it might reduce the expenditure incurred on voting and also curb the usage of black money in elections. Today voter have a chance to reject all candidates by pressing the NOTA (None of the above) option if he doesn’t like the candidates contesting election. Thus even the voting percentage can be increased through compulsory voting.
Today most of the black money is used by political parties to encourage people to cast their votes. If compulsory voting is introduced then people will definitely come forward to vote thus eliminating black money.
Some people are in favour of introducing compulsory voting in Mumbai as the city has been witnessing low voter turnout. In the state Assembly election held this October, only 51% voters from Mumbai cast their votes. In the general elections in April, the turnout in the city was 53%. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the richest civic body in the country, went to polls last in 2012, but just 45% of registered voters turned up on the voting day. In 2007, too, the city’s voter turnout for civic elections was 46%. Instead of forcing people to vote the state must give incentives to citizens for voting. It is not feasible for the government to impose fine or punish them.
On the other hand, there are many citizens who are unable to participate in the voting process as their names don’t feature in the voting list. The voter enrolment procedure in itself is tedious as citizens have to submit identity and address proof to the Electoral registration officer. Those people who have shifted from the residential areas often find it difficult to register due to absence of documents to validate their identity. This year even several bonafide voters’ names were struck off electoral rolls as they were unable to vote during the Lok Sabha election.
Thus when even genuine voters are facing problems about exercising their franchise then how can compulsory voting be implemented. Often several mistakes are visible in voters list as erroneous names, photos and address get published thereby creating hardships for voters. Thus the Election Commission will have to first iron out these flaws before enforcing compulsory voting. Moreover, officials are deputed for election duties only for a short span of time which is a major hindrance in the way of making voting compulsory. Finally, instead of introducing compulsory voting legislation the government should create more awareness among people about the advantages of exercising their franchisee.