- Electoral reforms refer to the development and benign change in election processes in India in order to facilitate better democracy, clean politics, ideal members of legislative houses, equality of representation and so on.
- Articles 324-329 deal with elections and electoral reforms. Electoral reforms are required to uphold the aspiration of our ancestors, to accomplish the ideals of our constitution and to have a true democracy in letter as well as in spirit by conducting fair elections.
- Among the MPs elected to the 16th Lok Sabha, out of the 542 winners analyzed, 185(34%) winners have declared criminal cases against themselves. 112 (21%) winners have declared serious criminal cases including cases related to murder, attempt to murder, communal disharmony, kidnapping, crimes against women etc. (Association for Democratic Reforms report)
- ADR also underlined that the chances of candidates with criminal charges were almost double as compared to clean candidates. The chances of winning of a candidate with criminal cases in the Lok Sabha 2014 elections are 13 percent while for a candidate with a clean record it is 5%.
- The Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms, in 1990, highlighted the crippling effect of money and muscle power in elections.
- The N. Vohra Committee which submitted its report in October 1993 studied of the problem of criminalization of politics and the nexus among criminals, politicians, and bureaucrats in India. The committee had concluded that agencies, including the CBI, IB, RAW, had unanimously expressed their opinion that the criminal network was virtually running a parallel government.
- The Law Commission of India, in its 244th report, said that instead of politicians having suspected links to criminal networks, as was the case earlier, it was persons with extensive criminal backgrounds who began entering politics. The Law Commission said that in the 10 years since 2004, 18% of the candidates contesting either national or State elections had criminal cases against them.
- 18th Report presented by a parliamentary committee to the Rajya Sabha in March 2007 expressed feeling that politics should be cleansed of persons with established criminal background”. It said, “criminalization of politics is the bane of society and negation of democracy”.
Constitutional articles related to electoral reforms:
- Article 324-329 deals with elections and electoral reforms.
- Article 324 deals with the Superintendence, direction and control of elections to be vested in an Election Commission.
- Article 325 states that no person to be ineligible for inclusion in, or to claim to be included in a special, electoral roll on grounds of religion, race, caste or sex.
- Article 326 deals with the Elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assemblies of States to be on the basis of adult suffrage.
- Article 327 provides power to the Parliament to make provision with respect to elections to Legislatures.
- Article 328 provides power to Legislature of a State to make provision with respect to elections to such Legislature.
- Article 329 provides to create a bar on court to make any interference by courts relating to electoral matters.
Need for electoral reforms:
- Criminalization of politics: 40% of LS and 23% of RS MPs have criminal background.
- Money and muscle power still influencing election outcomes.
- Electoral participation is only 66% in 16th LS elections. So, there is need to increase electoral participation.
- Women constitute only 11.3% in the 16th LS.
- Role of EC – more Powers should be awarded. Appointments to EC need to be more transparent.
- Political funding – Highly non-transparent and corruption prone zone.
- Victimization of voters – through booth and constituency profiling.
Electoral Reforms Pre-2000
- Lowering of Voting Age: The 61st Amendment Act to the Constitution reduced the minimum age for voting from 21 to 18 years.
- Deputation to Election Commission: All personnel working in preparing, revising and correcting the electoral rolls for elections shall be considered to be on deputation to the EC for the period of such employment, and they shall be superintended by the EC.
- Electronic Voting Machine (EVMs): First introduced in 1998 during the state elections of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, EVMs are used widely now as they are fool-proof, efficient and a better option in terms of the environment.
- Disqualification on conviction for violating the National Honours Act, 1971: This shall lead to disqualification of the person for 6 years from contesting to the Parliament and the state legislatures.
- Restriction on contesting from more than 2 constituencies: A candidate cannot contest from more than 2 constituencies.
- On poll days, employees of organisations get a paid holiday and violation of this is punishable by a fine.
- Prohibition on sale of liquor: No liquor or other intoxicants shall be sold or given or distributed at any shop, eating place, or any other place, whether private or public, within a polling area during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the conclusion of poll.
- The time limit for bye-elections: Bye-elections to any House of Parliament or a State Legislature will now be held within six months of the occurrence of the vacancy in that House.
Electoral Reforms Post 2000
- The ceiling on election expenditure: the Commission has put a cap on individual candidates’ spending. For the Lok Sabha elections, it is Rs. 50 – 70 lakh (depending on the state they are contesting the Lok Sabha seat from), and Rs. 20 – 28 lakh for an assembly election.
- Restriction on exit polls: The EC issued a statement before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections saying that exit poll results could be broadcast only after the final phase of the elections were over. This was done to avoid prospective voters from being misguided or prejudiced in any manner.
- Voting through postal ballot: In 2013, the EC decided to expand the ambit of postal ballot voting in the country. Previously, only Indian staff in missions abroad and defence personnel in a limited way, could vote via postal ballots. Now, there are 6 categories of voters who can use the postal ballot: service voters; special voters; wives of service voters and special voters; voters subjected to preventive detention; voters on election duty and Notified voters.
- Awareness Creation: The government decided to observe January 25th as ‘National Voters Day’ to mark the EC’s founding day.
- Political parties need to report any contribution in excess of Rs 20000 to the EC for claiming income tax benefit.
- Declaring of criminal antecedents, assets, etc. by the candidates is required and declaring false information in the affidavit is now an electoral offence punishable with imprisonment up to 6 months or fine or both.
- Introduction of NOTA
- Introduction of VVPAT ( Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail )
- Transparency in election funding: Electoral bonds