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Compulsory voting : How far is it feasible?

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By Dr. Munish Kumar Raizada

In November last year, Gujarat became the first Indian state to pass a bill making voting in the local body elections compulsory. With O.P. Kohli as the new Governor in office, the Bill managed to get the Governor’s assent in the third attempt. Even though the Bill was passed by Gujarat legislative assembly as early as 2009, Kamla Beniwal had rejected it twice during her tenure as the Governor of Gujarat, drawing sharp reactions from many quarters. Now with elections to as many as 315 local self-governments due in October this year, the state Government is likely to notify this bill (hence, making into a law) just well in time.

A number of experts doubt the constitutional validity of compulsory voting and consider it a violation of the Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees personal liberty. On the other hand, the supporters of this legislation point out that people can still have their personal liberty by choosing to vote for NOTA (None of The Above) and rejecting all the candidates. Kapoor Committee – set up by Gujarat state government – did invite suggestions from the public on the magnitude of penalty or punishment for those evading voting. However, we shall have to wait on the exact quantum of punishment as spelled out in the law.

Where else is this provision?

Presently, approximately 26 countries in the world enforce compulsory voting in one way or the other. The major nations among these include Argentina, Brazil, Singapore and Australia. Notwithstanding their national laws which make ‘not voting’ a punishable offence, most of these countries haven’t been able to enforce the punishments effectively. Some of these nations, such as Australia and Brazil, accept valid reasons, such as sickness or non-availability, for skipping to vote. In Brazil, failing to vote would debar you from getting a passport, whereas in Bolivia, you won’t be able to withdraw your salary from the Bank for a period of 3 months, if you fail to vote!

vote-661888_640According to many experts, a considerably low voter turnout in the local elections was the key driving force behind the introduction of this law in Gujarat. Arguing that the local elections don’t arouse much interest in the public, the experts say that a law will help the people make use of their constitutional privilege. Interestingly, it would be incorrect to assume that we are alone in this regard. The 2014 midterm elections in the USA saw the lowest voter turnout in 72 years! Only 36.4% of the eligible voters came out to cast their vote, as compared to the 40.9% turnout in the 2010 midterm elections.

The advocates of compulsory voting argue that as a non-voter, you lose the right to criticize the government and its policies since you didn’t have any part to play in its formation at the first place. On the contrary, rather than remaining a neutral voter, your no-show at the elections effectively converts you into a negative vote. As LK Advani once remarked: “Voters, who without any legitimate justification, have not been exercising the valuable right of franchise the Indian Constitution has conferred on them have, unwittingly thus, been casting a negative vote against all the contesting candidates without intending to do so.”

Is the idea really feasible?

In all probabilities, the Kapoor committee would recommend a nominal fine for the law violators. But taking into account the huge demography of the country, collection of such fines would be a tedious task to say the least. The last thing you would want is to spend more in collecting fines than the amount of fine itself!

Human behaviour forces us to repel anything which is made ‘compulsory’ for us. In Brazil, for instance, where voting is compulsory, a Rhinoceros ‘Cacareco’ won the local elections in 1959 when the people decided to utilize their compulsory voting right to protest against rampant corruption.291914817_0425f7619c_o

Incentivising a positive rather than punishing a negative has always paid rich dividends. For example, during the recent Delhi assembly elections, a number of restaurants, gyms and salons in the capital announced discounts for the customers if they showed their ‘inked finger’. While the real impact of such campaigns in boosting the voting percentage still remains to be deciphered, such ideas surely give food for thought.

The recent years have seen a steady rise in the voter turnout in all elections in the country. This is directly proportional to the rising literacy rate in the country. None would argue against the fact that voter education plays a major role in enhancing the voter turnout. The Election Commission has been organizing several events to raise awareness among the public regarding the significance of their single vote. To push the initiative even further, in 2011, the Government earmarked 25th January as the National Voters’ Day. Many celebrities have also taken up the cause of voter education in the past few years, and their efforts have showed results. Whether the clause of compulsory voting further adds to the rising political conscience of the country or does it backfire on the Government authorities, remains to be seen.

A-MK-150x150The author is a Chicago-based political commentator. This op-ed is an exclusive article in his series Musings from Chicago. You can reach out to him at e-mail ID:pedia333@gmail.com and on Twitter @drMunishRaizada.

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Kamala Harris Joins The U.S. Presidential Race

Harris is framing her campaign through her courtroom experience. The theme of her nascent campaign is "Kamala Harris, for the people,"

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Kamala Harris
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Ca., leaves a campaign event at Miami Dade College in Miami, Oct. 29, 2018. VOA

Kamala Harris, a first-term senator and former California attorney general known for her rigorous questioning of President Donald Trump’s nominees, entered the Democratic presidential race on Monday. Vowing to “bring our voices together,” Harris would be the first woman to hold the presidency and the second African-American if she succeeds.

Harris, a daughter of immigrant parents who grew up in Oakland, California, is one of the earliest high-profile Democrats to join what is expected to be a crowded field. She made her long anticipated announcement on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I am running for president of the United States,” she said. “And I’m very excited about it.”

The 54-year old portrayed herself as a fighter for justice, decency and equality in a video distributed by her campaign as she announced her bid. “They’re the values we as Americans cherish, and they’re all on the line now,” Harris says in the video. “The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values.”

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris, UPI

Harris launched her presidential bid as the nation observes what would have been the 90th birthday of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The timing was a clear signal that the California senator – who has joked that she had a “stroller’s-eye view” of the civil rights movement because her parents wheeled her and her sister Maya to protests – sees herself as another leader in that fight.

 

She abandoned the formality of launching an exploratory committee, instead going all in on a presidential bid.

She plans a formal campaign launch in Oakland on Jan. 27. The campaign will be based in Baltimore, with a second office in Oakland.

Harris joins what is expected to be a wide-open race for the Democratic presidential nomination. There’s no apparent front-runner at this early stage and Harris will face off against several Senate colleagues.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have both launched exploratory committees. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are also looking at the race.

If Booker enters the race, he and Harris could face a fierce competition for support from black voters.

Kamala Harris
Senate Judiciary Committee members Sen. Cory Booker, D.-N.J., top left, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Sen Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., right, talk as Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., discusses his concerns before the committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Democratic nomination, is also considering a campaign. Several other Democrats have already declared their intentions, including former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and former Obama administration housing chief Julian Castro.

Harris launches her campaign fresh off of a tour to promote her latest memoir, “The Truths We Hold,” which was widely seen as a stage-setter for a presidential bid.

She is already planning her first trip to an early primary state as a declared candidate. On Friday, Harris will travel to South Carolina to attend the Pink Ice Gala in Columbia, which is hosted by a South Carolina chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which Harris pledged as an undergraduate student at Howard University. The sorority, founded more than 100 years ago, is a stronghold in the African-American community.

South Carolina, where black voters make up a large share of the Democratic electorate, is likely to figure heavily into Harris’s prospects. And early voting in Harris’s home state of California will overlap with the traditional early nominating contests, which could give Harris a boost.

Harris’s campaign team is already taking shape and includes several veterans of Democratic politics.

Kamala Harris
Harris addressed her law enforcement background in her book.

Her staff says she plans to reject the assistance of a super PAC, as well as corporate PAC money. She’s invested heavily in cultivating a digital, small-dollar donor network before her presidential bid.

Before her 2016 victory in the Senate race, Harris made her career in law enforcement. She served as the district attorney in San Francisco before she was elected to serve as attorney general.

Harris is likely to face questions about her law enforcement record, particularly after the Black Lives Matter movement and activists across the country pushed for a criminal justice overhaul. Harris’s prosecutorial record has recently come under new scrutiny after a blistering opinion piece in The New York Times criticized her repeated claim that she was a “progressive prosecutor,” focused on changing a broken criminal justice system from within.

Harris addressed her law enforcement background in her book. She argued it was a “false choice” to decide between supporting the police and advocating for greater scrutiny of law enforcement.

Kamala Harris
California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris (Photo: Twitter/@KamalaHarris)

Juan Rodriguez, who ran Harris’s 2016 Senate campaign, will manage her presidential bid. Her sister, Maya Harris, a former top adviser to Hillary Clinton, will be the campaign chair. The veteran campaign finance lawyer Marc Elias will serve as the Harris campaign’s general counsel, and Angelique Cannon, who worked for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, will serve as national finance director. David Huynh, who was Clinton’s director of delegate operations in 2016, will serve as a senior adviser. Lily Adams, a Clinton campaign alum who has worked as Harris’s spokeswoman, will be communications director.

 

She “knew that there was an important role on the inside, sitting at the table where the decisions were being made,” she wrote. “When activists came marching and banging on the doors, I wanted to be on the other side to let them in.”

Harris supported legislation that passed the Senate last year that overhauled the criminal justice system, particularly when it comes to sentencing rules.

Also Read: U.S. Capital Expects Thousands Of Women To Attend 3rd Annual March

Harris is framing her campaign through her courtroom experience. The theme of her nascent campaign is “Kamala Harris, for the people,” the same words she spoke as a prosecutor, trying a case in the courtroom. (VOA)