Compulsory voting in India

Compulsory voting at elections to local bodies in Gujarat Last week, the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2009 received the Governor’s assent.  The Act introduces an ‘obligation to vote’ at the municipal corporation, municipality and Panchayat levels in the state of Gujarat.  To this end, the Act amends three laws related to administration at the local bodies- the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act, 1949; the Gujarat Municipalities Act, 1963 and; the Gujarat Panchayats Act, 1993. Following the amendments, it shall now be the duty of a qualified voter to cast his vote at elections to each of these bodies.  This includes the right to exercise the NOTA option.  The Act empowers an election officer to serve a voter notice on the grounds that he appears to have failed to vote at the election.  The voter is then required to provide sufficient reasons within a period of one month, failing which he is declared as a “defaulter voter” by an order. The defaulter voter has the option of challenging this order before a designated appellate officer, whose decision will be final. At this stage, it is unclear what the consequences for being a default voter may be, as the penalties for the same are to be prescribed in the Rules.  Typically, any disadvantage or penalty to be suffered by an individual for violating a provision of law is prescribed in the parent act itself, and not left to delegated legislation.  The Act carves out exemptions for certain individuals from voting if (i) he is rendered physically incapable due to illness etc.; (ii) he is not present in the state of Gujarat on the date of election; or (iii) for any other reasons to be laid down in the Rules. The previous Governor had withheld her assent on the Bill for several reasons.  The Governor had stated that compulsory voting violated Article 21 of the Constitution and the principles of individual liberty that permits an individual not to vote.  She had also pointed out that the Bill was silent on the government’s duty to create an enabling environment for the voter to cast his vote.  This included updating of electoral rolls, timely distribution of voter ID cards to all individuals and ensuring easy access to polling stations. Right to vote in India Many democratic governments consider participating in national elections a right of citizenship.  In India, the right to vote is provided by the Constitution and the Representation of People’s Act, 1951, subject to certain disqualifications.  Article 326 of the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen above the age of 18.  Further, Section 62 of the Representation of Peoples Act (RoPA), 1951 states that every person who is in the electoral roll of that constituency will be entitled to vote.  Thus, the Constitution and the RoPA make it clear that every individual above the age of 18, whose name is in the electoral rolls, and does not attract any of the disqualifications under the Act, may cast his vote.  This is a non discriminatory, voluntary system of voting. In1951, during the discussion on the People’s Representation Bill in Parliament, the idea of including compulsory voting was mooted by a Member.  However, it was rejected by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on account of practical difficulties.  Over the decades, of the various committees that have discussed electoral reforms, the Dinesh Goswami Committee (1990) briefly examined the issue of compulsory voting.  One of the members of the committee had suggested that the only effective remedy for low voter turn outs was introducing the system of compulsory voting.  This idea was rejected on the grounds that there were practical difficulties involved in its implementation. In July 2004, the Compulsory Voting Bill, 2004 was introduced as a Private Member Bill by Mr. Bachi Singh Rawat, a Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha.  The Bill proposed to make it compulsory for every eligible voter to vote and provided for exemption only in certain cases, like that of illness etc.  Arguments mooted against the Bill included that of remoteness of polling booths, difficulties faced by certain classes of people like daily wage labourers, nomadic groups, disabled, pregnant women etc. in casting their vote.  The Bill did not receive the support of the House and was not passed. Another Private Member Bill related to Compulsory Voting was introduced by Mr. JP Agarwal, Member of Parliament, in 2009.  Besides making voting mandatory, this Bill also cast the duty upon the state to ensure large number of polling booths at convenient places, and special arrangements for senior citizens, persons with physical disability and pregnant women.  The then Law Minister, Mr. Moily argued that if compulsory voting was introduced, Parliament would reflect, more accurately, the will of the electorate.  However, he also stated that active participation in a democratic set up must be voluntary, and not coerced. Compulsory voting in other countries A number of countries around the world make it mandatory for citizens to vote.  For example, Australia mandates compulsory voting at the national level.  The penalty for violation includes an explanation for not voting and a fine.  It may be noted that the voter turnout in Australia has usually been above 90%, since 1924.  Several countries in South America including Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia also have a provision for compulsory voting.  Certain other countries like The Netherlands in 1970 and Austria more recently, repealed such legal requirements after they had been in force for decades.  Other democracies like the UK, USA, Germany, Italy and France have a system of voluntary voting.  Typically, over the last few elections, Italy has had a voter turnout of over 80%, while the USA has a voter turnout of about 50%. What compulsory voting would mean Those in favour of compulsory voting assert that a high turnout is important for a proper democratic mandate and the functioning of democracy.  They also argue that people who know they will have to vote will take politics more seriously and start to take a more active role.  Further, citizens who live in a democratic state have a duty to vote, which is an essential part of that democracy. However, some others have argued that compulsory voting may be in violation of the fundamental rights of liberty and expression that are guaranteed to citizens in a democratic state.  In this context, it has been stated that every individual should be able to choose whether or not he or she wants to vote.  It is unclear whether the constitutional right to vote may be interpreted to include the right to not vote.  If challenged, it will up to the superior courts to examine whether compulsory voting violates the Constitution. [A version of this post appeared in the Sakal Times on November 16, 2014]


mp's picture

compulsory voting would reduce democratic engagement to single act of voting. it poses threat of becoming coercive instrument in the hands of state and would increase citizens vulnerability to harassment by state. moreover high voters turnout is not the only measure of deepening democracy.
Ravi Shankar's picture

While voting is an individual's choice, If anybody casts his/her vote by accepting bribe or other favours, automatically the vote should become invalid.
Sachin Shatri's picture

Municipal corporations & Panchayats were created by 73 & 74 constitutional amendment acts, how come acts related to these were already existing, viz the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act, 1949; the Gujarat Municipalities Act, 1963.
Sahil's picture

i think compulsory voting must be there. ya we are a democratic country. but its our duty that we participate in that democracy for our betterment. if every citizen follow his duty then there is no need that govt brought law for compulsory voting. its a tregdy that govt force you to vote. Many time we use FR for our safety but becoz we dnt want to do that like voting. but if a bad candidate win by 5 or 10 vote becoz some of us dnt cast vote to goood one candidate. so i think its a good step by Gujarat govt.
Prateek's picture

People who are opposing compulsory voting are primary beneficiaries of this rotten Indian democratic system. They simply don't want to change since there benefits would be diluted with change. Whats the harm in trying a new thing like compulsory voting?The pros or cons can only be discussed only after implementing it. If it is later found that compulsory voting, this feature can be dropped. But lets try it first, before jumping to make belief conclusions.
Dushyant's picture

For an effective democracy the society also has to play a pivotal role, therefore it is not just our right to vote but our duty to vote which we must realize. if we don't vote then for the next five years we are not entitled to criticize any of the govt's move. Talking about violating an individual's liberty to not vote, this Law provides for NOTA option, most of the votes don't vote because of dislike towards the candidates that are contesting, therefore by exercising NOTA we can show our disappointment towards the political parties. Although state to have to ensure convenient polling stations etc that are correctly mentioned in the article.
nitish raman's picture

why not to provide other alternatives to compulsory voting idea in our democratic nation? ..the initiative taken by gujarat govt cannot be apply to the nation as a whole as it will violates constitutional law of people. why not government at grassroot and state levels provide other alternatives like educating and creating awareness among people for their role in greater turnout and building strong democracies.
ashok's picture

if govt is thinking that if voting is made compulsory they will achieve confidence of people towards democracy, that's not going to happen. First govt should try to educate people about democracy , and the value of their one vote. And if people are made to vote, then why political party MP's and MLA's should obstrain from voting when important bill is discuss in parliament. They are bond to vote in parliament thats true democracy. if they are not voting then why we should vote....
Dr.Govind's picture

I'm following this blog from my tablet but I don't know how to save this articles on evernote could anyone who can help me to how to save this article in ever note. Please comment
Sneh deep's picture

Note - 1. IN Re Noise Pollution V AIR 2005 SC 3136 [ article 19 1 a include 'RIGHT OF KEEP SILENT' 2. Peoples Union for Civil Liberties VS Union of India AIR 2002 SC 2112
keval's picture

Compulsory voting should come with the Right to reject...then only the people will be motivated to vote...although compulsory voting contradicts the ideals of the democracy and right to reject is the part of democracy
keval's picture

<blockquote cite="#commentbody-80286"> <strong><a href="#comment-80286" rel="nofollow">keval</a> :</strong> if Compulsory voting is to come Right to reject should accompany it…then only the people will be motivated to vote…although compulsory voting contradicts the ideals of the democracy and right to reject is the part of democracy </blockquote>
kalyan's picture

S.Y. Quraishi too has opposed compulsory voting "Compulsion and democracy do not go together.... The decision to vote or not to vote is an individual's decision in exercise of his fundamental right of freedom of expression,"
sameer's picture

In this democratic nation, not to vote is also one's fundamental right. If Non-Voting is made punishable offence, Then Non-fulfillment of Poll Promises should also be made Punishable offence.
Sagar G's picture

Can you please post or provide a link to the bare text of the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009 - now an Act ... I am sure that I and many others like me would like to take a look and analyse the provisions in detail.
Sachin Shatri's picture

can the state legislative amend rules for voting in state legislative elections also? Or it's under the purview of Parliament only?
Shekhar's picture

As NOTA option is available in our election system; with this, nobody has to cast a vote any candidate compulsorily and unwillingly. But every citizen should go and do the duties being born in democratic, for which no price paid,,,at least we can respect and preserve it...
Kiran Kumar's picture

In a democratic setup like India everyone has to exercise their vote franchise, compulsory voting can be encouraged with certain relaxations for people with illness, old age, physical disability or some medical reasons etc. Liberal penalties may be imposed on those who neglect their right to vote, many of the urban citizens out of lack of interest and of negligence don't vote. We had institutionalized ourselves by setting/forming up government. The governments are formed as some among us vote and in turn the policies adopted by govt. shape our future, good or bad we will be the beneficiaries. By voting we will have the moral and legitimate rights to check the functioning of the govt. If people feel the candidates are undeserved they can exercise NOTA option and in future we can such candidates from contesting again. The right to vote doesn't imply the other way i.e. not to vote. We can't neglect to vote arbitrarily with out any reason or due to lazyness etc. by saying its right of expression or liberty.
muslim bhagawat's picture

Mandatory voting is not compulsory voting. When we are citizens of India and enjoying all rights enshrined in the constitution why should keep yourself aloof of the electoral process? Voting is our right but our country is ruled by minority govt who enjoys confidence of 30% of voters and by majority in Parliament and VS are ruling the country state. Voting is our rights and we must exercise our franchises. As democracy depends on voting election we ought make it strengthen. We want voting be made mandatory for a majority govt with more than 50% of popular vote.As an example if the voting is about 60% of total voters and any candidate gets 31% votes he becomes the ruler.It is simply a minority govt with 69% voters rejected him but the rules empowers him to rule.If we make voting mandatory 90% to 95% voters will vote.Again leaders will care for people and a fluent democracy works.We want a mandatory voting all over India.Compulsury is not mandatory.
Vatsal's picture

<a href="#comment-80286" rel="nofollow">@keval </a> We have NOTA(None Of The Above) provison

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