Conducting Elections Simultaneously in India
Issue and its Background
The move is afoot by the present BJP government headed by Prime Minister Mr. Modi to conduct elections to state legislative assemblies and the parliament of India simultaneously. The debate over the idea has got further momentum due to its reference by the President of India in his address to the nation prior to the Republic Day. However, it may be easier said than done because of the gargantuan scale of this exercise. Looking at the logistic of India's election may suffice to show the downside of such a radical action. The basic statistic of India's elections is; both Houses of Parliament(Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha), 542 seats / constituencies spread over an area of 32,87,263 km2, consisting of 86,86,13,070 registered voters conducted through 9,72,372 Polling Stations. These voters also elect MLAs/MLCs for their state's Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils and the total number of such representatives is 4120. Thus, by proposing simultaneous elections of MPs and MLAs, the government is proposing to conduct election of twice the scale and magnitude. In its Annual Report for Year 2016, The Election Commission of India states that 'the gigantic task force for conducting a countrywide general election consists of nearly five million polling personnel and civil police forces. This huge election machinery is deemed to be on deputation to the Election Commission of India and is subject to its control, superintendence and discipline during the election period, usually extending over a period of a month and a half to two months.' The issue would not be only of logistic. The election process when carried out in stages, give scope to the voters to exercise their franchise with specific consideration. A voter voting to elect representative to his state's Legislative Assembly may behave differently when he is casting his vote to elect representative for the parliament. Because the issues at state level and national level are vastly different and the voters now understand this difference. By holding simultaneous elections the diving line between such choices could get blurred. There are also technological issues, which are far more demanding. Election Commission of India has already switched over to the use of Electronic Voting Machines(EVMs). The Commission notes in its Status paper  that 554 million (55.41 crores) voters have exercised their franchise in 2014 Lok Sabha election. The Commission has also introduced Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) and has committed to 100% coverage of VVPATs in all future elections to parliament and state assemblies. The switching over from paper ballot to EVMs has been gradual and the technology has been mostly indigenous. Comparing it with international standards and practices one finds that the methodology in India has evolved quite independently from western democracies. In the West there has been steady development of this technology and great efforts have gone into the research and development of this practise.
Why the Idea is Mooted
The question would arise that why the Prime Minister Modi has initiated proposal for simultaneous election knowing fully well the complexities involved in its implementation. The answer is the probability of getting a sharper verdict from the people. The ruling party is going to the polls as an incumbent and is answerable for their record of past five years and in all democratic elections, the incumbent are always at a disadvantage due to their record of achievements and failures. Because mostly the achievements fall short of the expectations, incumbent have to work harder to stay in power. Mr. Modi and his party hopes to arrest this vacillation on part of the voters by forcing them to overlook the gap between promises and reality.
Psychological Hurdle of Making Dual Choices The decision making or choosing different candidate for different responsibility, one regional and second national may not be as simple as it has been construed by the exponents of simultaneous elections. The choice will consist of entirely different two sets of variables. At state level the issues are mundane and pertains to day-to-day living of an individual. The factors like prices of fuel, ration and vegetables, electricity tariff, transportation and children education besides availability and quality of health care services would guide the decision making while choosing representative for the State Assembly. Whereas for choosing the candidate for parliament voter has to weigh economic policy and action, foreign policy and the rise or fall of national esteem, situation and effective control of national borders, scientific achievements and global competitiveness, charisma of the leader are the factors that facilitate the decision making. Both these decisions could be at variance to one another and when the votes have to be exercised simultaneously, these choices could be conflicting in nature. It could therefore be argued that an average voter will face a difficult task to make choices and the verdict could be skewed.
Technological Hurdle and Crowding of gadgets For conducting simultaneous elections, the ECI will have to provide to its apprimately one million polling stations, double the number of EVMs. As they will have to be connected with control unit as well as VVPAT, there could be crowding of gadgets on the small tables of voting counters. It will therefore be imperative upon the government and the ECI to first work out a model polling booth and make precise calculation of the additional space that will be required and how it will be provided.
The scientific study carried out so far on the subject has brought out very interesting though conflicting nature of this proposal under consideration. In their Discussion Paper, Bibek Debroy and Kishore Desai have presented in depth various aspects related to this subject.
- Election Commission of India
- End-to-end auditable voting systems
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