Elections and Electoral Reforms in India

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Articles 324 to 329 in part XV of the constitution deals with elections
 
Article 324:  Superintendence, direction and control of elections to be vested in an election commission.
(1) The superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls, conduct elections to the parliament and every state legislature and offices of president and vice president.
(2) The elections are conducted by a chief election commissioner and such number of other election commissioners, if any as the president may time for time fix. Their appointment is subjected to law made in that behalf by parliament.
(3) If any of so election commissioners is appointed, chief election commissioner shall act as chairman of election commission.
(4) Before any election in India (Elections to parliament, legislative assemblies, legislative councils, general elections or biennial elections), the president after consulting chief election commissioner may appoint regional commissioners to assist election commission.
(5) The conditions of service and tenure of election commissioners and regional commissioners are like they shall not be removed from office except in manner and grounds for removal of Supreme Court chief justice and they shall be removed without the recommendation of chief election commissioner.
(6) The president or the governor shall provide adequate staff to election commission if requested to discharge functions of elections.
 
Article 325: No person shall be ineligible for inclusion in, or to claim to be included in a special electoral roll on grounds of religion, race, caste or sex.
There shall be no special provision or representation for anyone. One general electoral roll for a territorial constituency and no person shall be excluded on the grounds mentioned.
 
Article 326: Elections to the House of the people and to the legislative assemblies of states to be on the basis of adult suffrage.
Every person who is citizen of India and who is not less than 18 years of age on the date of elections can cast vote to general elections of parliament or state assemblies or biennial elections. The person only be disqualified on grounds of unsound mind, non residence, crime or corrupt or illegal practices.
 
Article 327: Power of parliament to make provisions with respect to elections to legislatures
Power of parliament to make provision with respect to all matters relating to elections. The provisions may be like delimitation of constituencies, electoral rolls etc.
Article 328: Power of legislature of state to make provision with respect to elections to such legislature 
If a state feels few or more provisions are not made by parliament, then, legislature of a state has power to make provision with respect to all matters relating to elections. The provision may be like delimitation of constituencies, electoral rolls etc.

Article 329: Bar to interference by courts in electoral matters
(a) The validity of any law made due respect of elections under article 327 and article 328 cannot be questioned in any court.
(b) No election shall be questioned except by an election petition presented to concerned authority.
 
Exceptional cases and points to remember:
  • Though the powers of election commission are wide, they cannot violate the provisions of any law including state acts. But precautionary measures are not illegal.
  • No election can be invalidated on the ground that the electoral officer failed to comply with the non-statutory directions issued by the commission though the electoral officer is binding on the directions.
  • Bar of article 329(a) will not come into play when case falls under articles 191 and 193 and whole of the election process is over.
  • Parliament has enacted the Representation of the Peoples Acts 1950, 1951 and the Delimitation commission Acts 1952, 1962, 1972(repealed), 2002, 2003 to prescribe the mode of election, and the formation and delimitation of the constituencies relating to election.
  • The election commission of India is a three member body now.
List of Officers
1. Chief Electoral Officer (CEO): The election commission nominates or designates an officer of the government of a state or UT to supervise the election work of the state or UT in consultation by the state or UT.
 
2. District Election Officer (DEO): The election commission nominates or designates an officer of state government as the DEO in consultation with the state government. He is in control of CEO and supervises the election work of a district.

3. Returning Officer (RO): The RO of a parliament or assembly constituency is responsible for the conduct of elections in the parliament or assembly constituency. The election commission of India nominates or designates an officer of the government or local authority as RO for each of the parliament or assembly constituencies in consultation with the state government or UT. The election commission may also appoint one or more assistant ROs to assist RO.

4. Electoral Registration Officer (ERO): The ERO of a parliament or assembly constituency is responsible for preparation or revision of electoral rolls. The election commission of India nominates or designates an officer of the government or local authority as ERO for each of the parliament or assembly constituencies in consultation with the state government or UT. The election commission may also appoint one or more assistant EROs to assist ERO.

5. Presiding Officer: These presiding officers are appointed by the DEO and by RO in case of a UT. These along with the polling officers, appointed by the DEO/RO shall assist presiding officer to conduct polls at a polling station.

6. Observers: The election commission of India appoints observers from government for parliament and assembly constituencies. Observers may be of two types: General observers and election expenditure observers. They perform functions as asked by the commission and directly report to the commission.
 
Miscellaneous issues involved in elections:
  • The constitution says the gap between the dissolved LS and new house shall not be beyond a period of six months.
  • The model code of conduct for guidance of candidates and political parties comes into effect after announcement of schedule of elections by the commission.
  • Voting is by a secret ballot; no polling stations deal with more than 1500 voters; polling station is open for at least eight hours on the day of election.
  • EVMS came into existence since 1998.
  • Election expenditure observer keeps a check on the amount that each candidate and party spends on the election.
  • Elections to the LS and state/UT assemblies are carried out using a first-past-the-post electoral system.
  • Election petitions are tried by the High court of the state concerned. 
  • The formal process for the elections is as follows:
    Notifications calling upon the electorate to elect members filing of nominations by candidates scrutiny by RO valid list of candidates is announced if wished to withdraw, valid candidates can do within two days of scrutiny political campaign for at least two weeks before actual date of poll. (Officially ends 48 hours before polling closes)
Oath or Affirmation:
It is mandatory for a candidate to make and subscribe an oath or affirmation before an officer of election commission as appointed.
  • If in a person or under preventive detention, the superintendent of the prison or commandant of the detention camp in which the person is so confined or is under such detention is authorized to administer the oath.
  • If in a hospital or illness, medical superintendent or medical practitioner should authorize.
  • If outside India, the Indian Ambassador or High commissioner or diplomatic consular should authorize.
Electoral Reforms
Various committees have been put in place to examine electoral system, election machinery and election process from 1974 to 2011. The various committees can be mentioned here as follows:
S.No. Year Name of the committee Examination
1. 1974 Tarkunde committee appointed by JP Narayana Election process and election system
2. 1990 Dinesh Goswami committee Electoral reforms
3. 1993 Vohra committee Nexus between crime and politics
4. 1998 Indrajit Gupta committee State funding of elections
5. 1999 Law commission of India Reform of the electoral laws
6. 2000-2002 National commission headed by MN Venkatachaliah Working of the constitution
7. 2004 Election commission of India Proposed electoral reforms
8. 2007 Second ARC headed by Verappa Moily Report on ethics in governance
9. 2010 Tankha committee  Gamut of election laws and electoral reforms

All the committee reports can be grouped and presented in chronological order as follows:

1988

  • The 61st constitutional amendment act of 1988 reduced the voting age from 21 to 18.
  • The staff engaged in election process is deemed to be on deputation.
  • Number of proposers is increased to 10 per cent of the electors of the constituency or ten such electors whichever is less.

1989

  • Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were used for the first time in selected constituencies of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi but for the the entire state use is in Goa in 1999.
  • Adjournment of elections if booth capturing (seizure of polling station or a voter not to vote or not making place to be used for counting ) is observed.

1996: 

  • Candidates contesting elections were categorized into three: candidates from recognized parties, registered-non recognized parties and Independents and their names in ballot paper were arranged in the above order and in alphabetical order.
  • A person is debarred from contesting elections for 6 years to the parliament or state legislature under prevention of insults to national honor act of 1971 which says insulting national flag, constitution of India and preventing the singing of national anthem as insults and offences.
  • Prohibition on sale of liquor in a place of election polling area before 48 hours of the date of polling. If found breached, punishment of imprisonment up to six months or fine up to 2000 or both.
  • The number of proposers for a non recognized party candidate is fixed to 10 and for a recognized party is one.
  • In case of a death of a candidate of a recognized political party before the date of polling, the elections are not halted as it was a practice before but seven days time is given to propose another candidate.
  • By elections are to be held within six months of occurrence of the vacancy in any house of parliament or state legislature. But this condition is not applicable in two cases:

              1. When the remainder of term of the members whose vacancy is to be filled is less than one year.
              2. When the election commission in consultation with the central government says that it is difficult to hold elections within the said period.

  • A paid holiday on the day of polling. However if a voter absence may result a loss in an employment, it is exempted. Others if found breaching, a fine up to 500 is levied.
  • A candidate will not be eligible to contest from more than two parliamentary or assembly constituencies at a general election or at the by elections which are held simultaneously. Similar restrictions are imposed for biennial elections and by elections to the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils.
  • Prohibition of arms in premises of polling station, exemption to returning officer, presiding officer and police staff. If breached, it is considered as an cognizable offence and imprisonment up to two years and license of those arms would be cancelled,
  • The minimum gap between the last date for withdrawal of candidature and the polling date has been reduced to 14 days from 20 days.

1997: Number of proposers and seconders for a presidential election is raised from 10 to 50 and of vice president election from 5 to 20. Security deposit is also raised from 2500 to 15000.

1998: The employees of local authorities, government undertakings can be requisitioned for deployment on Election Day.

1999: A provision of postal ballot for a notified class by Election commission.

2003:

  • Facility to opt to vote through proxy to the armed forces and members belonging to a force to which provisions of the army act apply. Such service votes should intimate the returning officer of the constituency prior.
  • Every candidate contesting elections to either parliamentary constituency or state legislature should furnish the following details in the nomination paper. They are:
  • Whether the candidate is convicted or acquitted or discharged of any criminal offence in the past?
  • Whether the candidate was imprisoned or fined?
  • Prior to six months of filing nomination, whether the candidate is accused in any pending case of any offence punishable with imprisonment for two years or more.
  • Declaration of assets (all kinds and dependents assets too)
  • Declaration of liabilities.
  • Education qualification.

Any false information found in above, it is an electoral offence and punishable with imprisonment up to six months up to six months or fine or both.

  • Domicile or residency requirement of a candidate contesting an election to Rajya Sabha and open ballot system is introduced.
  • Travelling expenditure incurred by the campaigning leaders shall be exempted from being included in the election expenses of the candidate.
  • Free supply of electoral rolls and specified items to candidates of recognized party from the election commission.
  • Political parties are free to accept contributions from any individual or a company other than Government Company. It is exempted from taxes and any amount excess than 20,000 has to be reported to election commission.
  • Allocation of electronic media is to be allocated to recognized party candidates based on their past performances.

2009: 

  • Restriction on exit polls. If the election commission found any, it can punish with imprisonment up to two years or fine or both.
  • Time limit given for a specified authority to investigate into a case for disqualification is of three months and within stipulated time they have to report to president for disqualification.
  • All officials are included under scrutiny for corrupt practices.
  • The security deposit for a candidate contesting elections to Lok Sabha was increased from 10,000 to 25,000 for general candidates and 5,000 to 12,500 for SC and ST candidates. And a candidate contesting elections to state legislative assembly increased from 5,000 to 10,000 for general and from 2,500 to 5,000 for SC and ST candidates.
  • Establishment of appellate authority within the district.

2010: A provision was made to confer voting rights to the citizens of India residing outside India.

2011: The ceiling on election expenditure increased to 40 lakhs for bigger states and for other states or UTS it varies from 16 lakhs to 40 lakhs for a lok sabha constituency and for a legislative assembly seat it was increased to 16 lakhs in bigger states and ranges from 8 lakhs to 16 lakhs in smaller states or UTS.

2013: None Of The Above (NOTA) option debuted in recent legislative assembly elections to Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram.

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