Electoral Reforms In India

In electoral reform bill’s passing, a missed opportunity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Linking Aadhar with electoral roll

Context

The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was passed in the Lok Sabha recently. It seeks to link electoral rolls with the Aadhaar ecosystem.

What are the concerns with linking of Aadhar with electoral roll?

[1] Aadhar is not proof of citizenship

  • Aadhaar is not meant to be a citizenship proof but only a digital identity for all residents.
  • Residence of 182 days can make even a non-citizen eligible for an Aadhaar ID.

[2] Aadhar is not address proof

  • According to public statements by several government functionaries, Aadhaar was only meant to be identity proof but not address proof.
  • Electoral roll is based on Aadhar: In contrast, the RER clearly stipulates address to be a key index for electoral rolls.
  • Different enrollment process: Moreover, the enrolment processes for voters’ lists and Aadhaar are completely different.
  • Whereas Aadhaar enrolment is based on production of existing documents and the “introducer system”, voter enrolments involve physical verification and “house visits” by a registration officer or representative.

[3] No audit report on the efficacy of Aadhaar deduplication or on the authenticity of the Aadhaar database

  • Even the Supreme Court accepted the Unique Identification Authority of India’s (UIDAI) claims on the integrity of the Aadhaar database at face value without any scrutiny.
  • Risk of exclusion error: Using Aadhaar to clean the electoral rolls involved the risk of disenfranchisement, especially of the marginalised communities.
  • It is to be noted that there is ample publicly documented evidence of large-scale exclusion in PDS and welfare disbursal due to Aadhaar.

[4] Conflict of interest

  • UIDAI is under government control: Maintenance of the voters’ lists is a primary responsibility of the ECI, which is an independent constitutional body, whereas Aadhaar is a government instrument and UIDAI is under government control.
  • Since the ECI has no control on either enrolment or deduplication in Aadhaar, it appears inappropriate — and a potential conflict of interest — to use Aadhaar for electoral rolls.
  • In particular, since Aadhaar is directly used for disbursal of welfare and direct benefit transfers, linking it with voter ID may provide a direct method for the government to influence and manipulate voters.

[5] Risk of profiling and targeting of voters

  • Aadhaar is a ubiquitous ID that is used in a variety of applications.
  • Linking it with the voter ID will open up avenues for profiling and targeting of voters.
  • No audit for purpose limitation: This is of particular concern because neither the UIDAI nor the ECI have publicly audited architectures for purpose limitation and protection against insider attacks.
  • While profiling using public data is not illegal according to current laws, both the electorate and Parliament need to clearly understand the risks of such profiling.
  • It is far easier to win elections through digital analysis of electoral rolls than through attacking the electronic voting process, especially when election results are available at booth-level granularity
  • Both privacy and integrity of the electoral rolls are of paramount importance in the digital age, and the clear tension between the two makes the problem challenging.

Way forward

  • Use of cryptography: The RER of 1960 clearly opted for transparency as a means to the integrity of the electoral rolls, thereby ensuring that all additions and deletions can be publicly audited.
  • However, with the possibility of digital processing of electoral data, the risks associated with such complete transparency have increased manifold.
  • Yet, there are several modern techniques from cryptography and computer science that may help mitigate the risks by enabling both privacy and public auditability.

Consider the question “The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 enable the linking of electoral rolls with the Aadhaar ecosystem. What are the objectives of such linking and concerns raised against it?”

Conclusion

An electoral reforms bill at the onset of 2022 needed to explore and address these issues head-on.

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