Tuesday November 20, 2018
Home India Compulsory vo...

Compulsory voting : How far is it feasible?

0
//
Republish
Reprint

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.

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 NewsGram

Next Story

Twitter Takes Multiple Steps To Curb Misinformation Before Elections in India

More than 80 per cent of the Twitter accounts linked to spread of disinformation

0
Twitter, tweets, India
The Twitter logo appears on a phone post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.. VOA

Twitter is taking “multi-variable” steps, including the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, to curb the spread of misleading information on its platform ahead of 2019 general election in India, Co-Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said here on Monday.

Addressing a Town Hall-style meeting at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi (IIT-D), Dorsey said fake news is a way too big category.

“The real problem is not misinformation per se as jokes can also be categorised as misinfomation. But misinformation that is spread with the intent to mislead people is a real problem,” stressed the Twitter CEO who is in India on a week-long maiden visit.

Dorsey, who got a rousing reception at IIT-D with the students wildly cheering the young entrepreneur, likened solving the problem of misleading information to that of addressing a security issue, or building a lock.

Twitter, India
Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media on Capitol Hill. VOA

“No one can build a perfect lock, but we need to stay ahead of our attackers. AI could probably help,” Dorsey told the audience.

Earlier in the day, the Twitter CEO met Congress President Rahul Gandhi and discussed various steps the social network was taking to curb the spread of fake news and boost healthy conversation on its platform.

Dorsey also met Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama over the weekend. He was also expected to meet Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in the wake of the growing criticism over Twitter’s role in the spread of misinformation and fake news as India faces Assembly polls in five states in November-December ahead of next year’s general elections.

Twitter, India
Twitter on a smartphone device. Pixabay

Twitter, along with other social media platforms, including Facebook, came under intense scrutiny of policymakers in the US for their failure to stop the spread of misinformation by Russia-linked accounts on their platforms during the 2016 Presidential election.

The micro-blogging site since then has stepped up its efforts to curb the spread of divisive messages and fake news on its platform.

To further protect the integrity of elections, Twitter recently announced that it would now delete fake accounts engaged in a variety of emergent, malicious behaviour.

India, elections
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses the gathering during the ‘Global Mobility Summit’ in New Delhi, India, VOA

As part of the new rules, accounts that deliberately mimic or are intended to replace accounts that were previously suspended for violating rules may be identified as fake accounts, Twitter said recently.

Also Read: Twitter Giving Its Users More Freedom to Report Fake, Suspicious Accounts

However, according to a Knight Foundation study released in October, more than 80 per cent of the Twitter accounts linked to spread of disinformation during the 2016 US election are still active. (IANS)