The three pillars of elections

Shishir Sinha | Updated on April 12, 2019

Indian democracy is among the largest in the world. This year, over 90 crore people will exercise their vote to send 543 representatives to India’s 17th Lok Sabha. The number of voters has gone up by over 8.4 crore since 2014, with 1.5 crore voters in the age group of 18-19 years, exercising their right to vote for the first time. The entire electoral exercise rests on three pillars — Article 326 of the Constitution, the Representation of the People Act 1950 and the Representation of the People Act 1951.

Who can vote?

Article 326 of the Constitution prescribes who can vote. Voters in the age bracket of 18 to 19 should thank the 61st amendment in the Constitution on March 28, 1989 which lowered the voting age by three years. The article says, “The elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage. Every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than eighteen years of age…….and is not otherwise disqualified under this Constitution or any law….on the ground of non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practice, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter at any election.”

What did the Representation of the People Act, 1950 do then?

It was enacted to provide for the allocation of seats and delimitation of constituencies, to lay down qualifications of voters, decide on the procedure for the preparation of electoral rolls and the manner of filling seats. This Act has been amended many times since, with the latest change made in 2017.

The Act permits the persons who are ordinarily resident in a constituency to be registered in its electoral rolls. These persons include (i) persons holding a service qualification (such as member of armed forces, member of armed police force of a state, serving outside the state, or central government employees posted outside India) (ii) persons holding certain offices in India declared by the President in consultation with Election Commission. Under the Act, the wives of such persons are also deemed to be ordinarily residing in India. With the 2017 amendment, the term ‘wife’ has been replaced by ‘spouse’.

What about the Representation of the People Act, 1951?

This was enacted to regulate the conduct of elections, specify the qualifications and disqualifications for membership of these houses, curb corrupt practices and other offences and to lay down the procedure for settling doubts and disputes arising out of elections.

This Act, too, has been amendment many times with the latest in 2017 to make certain provisions gender neutral and also permit overseas voters to exercise their rights through proxy. It may be noted that Section 20A of the Representation of the People Act 1950 provides for registration and enrolment of overseas voters in the electoral rolls.

The Registration of Electors Rules in 1960 had allowed overseas voters to register themselves in the electoral rolls of their respective constituencies on the basis of self-attested copies of their passport and a valid visa. They could exercise their franchise in person on production of original passport at the time of voting at the specified polling booth. This effectively required physical presence for people residing overseas to cast their vote which caused practical problems.

With the 2017 amendment, it has become possible for overseas voters to exercise their franchise remotely from abroad, by appointing a proxy to cast the vote on their behalf, subject to certain conditions. According to the Election Commission, 71,735 overseas voters have been enrolled in the electoral rolls for the upcoming polls.

Ballot Basics is fortnightly column that unravels poll jargon for first time voters

Read the first part of the series here: Model Code of Conduct

Published on April 01, 2019

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