Tuesday, April 18, 2006

How to make voters vote?

The biggest problem in Indian electoral scene is the poor turnout of voters. This is true for many countries and India being the largest democracy should find ways to overcome this problem. Somehow!

Let us see the problems which a voter faces and which discourage him from exercising his franchise.

The first thing that comes to mind is the idle nature of the voters. Some of them see the election as a source of entertainment, the election day as a holiday, the election campaigns as interesting dramas and think their duty is over by mere discussion with other similar idle citizens. I consider this as problem number 1.

Problem Number 2 is the fear factor, ie. the fear of violence at the time of elections, the call of extremists to boycott the polls etc. This might not be true in all parts of India but wherever it is ture, it indeed poses a grave problem.

Problem 3 may sound trivial but it is as serious as the others: Difficulty in reaching the polling booths . The difficulty can be due to the accessibility of the booth - like availability of bus,train services, severe weather conditions, or lack of additional efforts to enable the handicapped vote.

Problem 4 is easily the worst according to me. It is the Lack of Concern from the voters' side. There are sections of people in the society who hardly ever have voted in elections. Their attitude is one of 'Whoever comes, nothing is going to happen', 'whoever comes, they are going to swindle', 'what difference my vote will make in the final outcome'.

Problem 5 is very basic: Missing names in the electoral rolls . I was born in 1982, eligible to vote from October of 2000, but found my entry into the electoral rolls only in 2006, at the age of 24. The ruckus during the enrolling process and the inevitable huge slip-up in the list are only too well known.

Having identified some of the problems, let me throw some solutions as well. The associated problems are in (brackets).

Solution 1. Make people answerable for uncast votes (1,4) . The non-voters should be made to explain why they did not fulfill their electoral duty. They should be made to file the reason with the local tahsildar for their uncast vote. The eventualites for not voting and not filing the reasons would be dealt as mentioned in solutions 7-11. The mere fact that the non-voters have to go to the tahsildar office on a working day, stand in the queue and file the papers would make them feel that voting on the election day would be a far easier job.

Solution 2. Enhance the security at polling booths (2) . This is an obvious solution to problem 2. But in addition to enhancing the security, the happenings around in the polling stations could be telecast in the local cable tv. This would release the fear of most people. Even if there is an unrest, people would be fore-warned and would not add to the chaos there. Showing of election booths in TV has an additional benefit: Voters can find the best possible time to vote, avoiding the times at which the booth is crowded. Also, punishing the poll offenders severely (eg.POTA) might discourage them from committing the crime.

Solution 3. Free commutation facilities (3). It is understood that the polling booths would not be far away from the voters' houses. But in some cases, as in villages, if the distance is more, the authorities can arrange some special buses, share autos, vans etc. free of cost, so that people do not find any discomfort in voting.

Solution 4. Listen to the weather man (3). Listen to the climate would have been better. The elections should not be conducted during times of extreme weather that would cause discomfort to the voters. Elections in north India during Dec-Jan, in Tamilnadu during oct-nov, Central india during may-jun have to be avoided. I think the Election Commission is already trying to implement this.

Solution 5. Postal Votes (3). Exercising franchise through postal votes has to be extended on an on-demand-basis. Government employees like election officers and police officials normally are allowed to do this. But on a payment basis, other citizens should also be allowed to avail this facility.

Solution 6. Special efforts to include names in the rolls (5). A majority of the missing names would that be of the voters who become eligible to vote since the last election, ie. those who have attained 18 years in the last 3-5 years. The EC can make use of the std XII lists, census data to include these people. The colleges can organize special camps wherein all their students are compulsorily made to get enlisted in the rolls. Some companies can also take initiatives to force their employees to get enrolled. A nice example is the TCS way of withholding the salary amount of Rs.10000 till the employee shows his PAN card.

Solution 7. Use of Internet (1,2,3). This I feel is the solution to most of the problems, though it might throw some of its own. The Internet can be a medium through which the voters can register and then vote. The introduction of a national identity card with appropriate security details would be a pre-cursor to the use of Internet in electoral process. The EC can take cues from the various banks which are operating safely through the Internet. May be the banks can chip in with their contribution here.

Solution 8. Incentives 1 (1,4). The Government can give additional litre of kerosene (at existing prices at ration shops) per voter if all eligible voters in that family have voted. Kerosene is just an example, it can be substituted with anything else of importance.

Solution 9. Incentives 2 (1,4). Solution 8 might serve as incentive to middle, lower middle and BPL classes of the society, but what about the educated middle, upper middle and others. Each non-voter should have additional tax rate. For cases where this cannot be applied, those people should be charged extra for electricity, water and other Government supplies.

Solution 10. Incentives 3 (1,4). If a voter stays outside his state, he has to be granted leave from his office, be it Government or otherwise, to exercise his franchise. The companies can give a token 1-2 holidays.

Solution 11. Incentives 4 (1,4). Government employees who do not vote will have to forfeit one month salary. Private sector companies are also encouraged to do so. The funds collected from this would be given to finance the other solutions. Having voted in the last election (or the paper from tahsildar office:solution 1) should be an eligibility criterion for applicants to jobs.


Razib Ahmed said...

The biggest problem in Indian electoral scene is the poor turnout of voters- well I am not an expert about elections and voter turnouts but as far as I know voter turn out in India is not bad compared to some European and North American countries. HOwever, you have written an excellent article and you have showed how things can improve for India.

Karthik said...

I was just thinking about the use of the internet for voting. It SEEMS a solution to all our problems including laziness. You have touched upon the security of the votes themselves. But there is one gaping hole that can prove a big stumbling block.

What if parties come to your house, and threaten you to vote for them at gun/aruvaa point? Although, incidents such as this can be controlled, the volume will be huge.
Ofcourse, some incidents can get controlled in the steady state.

On the other hand, the voting station is a centralized secure facility (he he, atleast in theory and most of the time in practice)

So the Internet as a personal medium is ruled out, I think. May be we can use the internet for safe transportation of votes and speedy processing on computers, later. It can speeden up the process. But I think it is really wrong to introduce Internet as a personal voting medium per se if that's what you have in mind.

Selva said...

Here again the concept of Internet banking can be taken as example. I have not heard about robbery at knife-point in Internet banking...Internet voting will not be the only means of voting-it will be just another source. People who want to vote through internet have to apply (online or otherwise) separately that they would use the net facility. No Tom,dick and harry in the street would know that a particular person 'has' net voting facility. Ignorance can be the biggest shield..or rather data security...Instead of squarely dropping the idea, ways of improving the means has to be investigated

Karthik said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karthik said...

>> I have not heard about robbery at knife-point in Internet banking

Just shows our ignorance, doesn't it? Is it not possible? Every one does internet banking. I think thieves are yet to capitalize on that market segment. ;)

The bit about ignorance sounds a nice idea and indeed can be a solution. But can't tell how it will work perfectly in practice. And please don't compare the clout of political parties (esp. the ruling one) with some petty thieves. What if the privacy of that list is compromised upon by the ruling party? These politicians, they are capable of it. Voters beware! The system must be pucca else the politicians will beat us to the vote! ;)

Selva said...

We can expect certain amount of security (data and others) from the Election Commission...We certainly do not expect the paper votes to be tampered by workers of the one party or the other. We acknowledge whatever verdict is released by the EC. If something deemed confidential(eg. the Net voting list) is leaked and becomes a source of problem, then NOTHING can be done about ANYTHING