Electoral Reforms In India

Explained: Compulsory voting and associated issues

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Issues assciated with compulsory voting


  • The Compulsory Voting Bill, 2019, was introduced by a ruling party MP in Lok Sabha.
  • The Law Commission, in its March 2015 report on electoral reforms, had opposed the idea of compulsory voting, saying it was not practical to implement it.

Compulsory voting

  • Compulsory voting is an effect of laws which require eligible citizens to register and vote in elections, and may impose penalties on those who fail to do so.
  • In practice, this appears to produce governments with more stability, legitimacy and a genuine mandate to govern.
  • This in turn benefits all individuals even if an individual voter’s preferred candidate or party is not elected to power.

Why need it?

  • Voting is often equated in kind to similar civil responsibilities such as taxation.
  • The idea of a compulsory voting result in a higher degree of political legitimacy is based on higher voter turnout.
  • Other perceived advantages to compulsory voting are the stimulation of broader interest politics, as a sort of civil education and political stimulation, which creates a better informed population.

Argument against

  • Voting is a civic right in India rather than a civic duty.
  • Legal scholars in the US argue that compulsory voting is essentially a compelled speech act, which violates freedom of speech because the freedom to speak necessarily includes the freedom not to speak.
  • The costs of voting may normally exceed the expected benefits for weaker sections such as migrant workers.

Is India is not ready for 100 per cent voting?

  • The government relies on the 255th Law Commission Report, which says “electoral right” of the voter includes the right to “vote or refrain from voting at an election.”
  • The Representation of People Act, 1951 – the law that governs elections – too talks of “right to vote rather than a duty to vote”.
  • The idea of compulsory voting in India has been rejected time and again on the grounds of practical difficulties.
  • However, the issue of compulsory voting is bigger than being just a legal issue. The idea has political ramifications too.

Encouraging democratic dissent

  • Political scientists say democracies need to accommodate dissent and diversity of views.
  • This includes the option of disengagement, rights to abstain from participating; if people believe voting is erroneous, undesirable, unnecessary or immoral.

What evidences suggest?

  • It has often been argued that compulsory voting will improve political participation.
  • But empirical evidence and experience of countries with compulsory voting suggest otherwise.
  • The Australian experience with compulsory voting has revealed the notion of “donkey voting” – where when voters were forced to vote – they voted for the candidate whose name was on the top of the candidates’ list.

Conclusion

  • It is evident that increased participation does not necessarily guarantee quality participation or does not make a democracy with compulsory voting more vibrant.
  • There is also a real fear that compulsory voting may lead to more vote buying by candidates especially in a country like India, where we have seen instances of – cash-for-vote scams.
  • Making voting compulsory also kills the option of not voting as a protest.
  • Nobody disputes the benefits of higher and informed voter turn-out for democracy, but instead of taking the compulsory route for wider participation of people in the election process – technology can be harnessed to achieve this end.
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