CHENNAI: Should voting be made mandatory and those who don’t vote be penalised? Former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami opines that making voting a mandatory duty of every citizen is a compelling idea and it should be implemented in a strategic way. “Initially, action should be initiated against the educated and rich people who have the wherewithal to discharge their democratic duty but fail to vote, so that it would act as a deterrent for the rest of the electorate,” Gopalaswami said when asked why 27 per cent voters abstained from exercising their franchise even despite vigourous efforts of Election Commission.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. However, before expecting 100 per cent polling, we have other priorities to set right. In the present scenario, the winning party gets around 25 to 40 per cent of the votes polled. In my opinion, if the winner does not get at least 50 per cent votes, run-off polls should be held between the first two or three candidates. Since we have EVMs now, that’s not a far fetched idea,” the former Chief Election Commissioner said.
Another worthwhile experiment would be to identify the booth with the least turnout, Gopalaswami continued. “Now, find all the rich and educated people in that booth who failed to vote. Punishing these people might set an example for the rest. The government must not decide to act against all those who did not turn up in one go as such a measure would only affect the poor,” he further said.
Former Chief Election Commissioner TS Krishnamurthy, however, has contrasting views. “The right to vote also includes the right to not vote; 100 per cent polling has not been possible even in countries that made voting mandatory. Failure to delete the dead voters and those who have shifted residences will further affect voter turnout. Even if we are able to touch 80 to 90 polling per cent, it will be a great achievement,” Krishnamurthy points out.
He says making voting mandatory implies punishment for those who fail to do it. “In an Assembly constituency, there are about three lakh voters and if 20 per cent of them fail to vote, the authorities have to issue notices personally to around 60,000 people, find out the reasons and finally penalise them. So,it is not feasible in India. I have always been saying that for municipal, corporation and panchayat elections, voting could be made mandatory. But, it would not be easy to implement in Assembly or Lok Sabha polls,” he added.
A senior official who had overseen a few key elections in Tamil Nadu in the past, on condition of anonymity, told Express that location of the booth is a major challenge in urban areas like Chennai. “The booths will be at far away places and may lack parking facilities. There is a notion that only educational institutions can be polling booths. That should be broken. Booths may even be set up in multi-storeyed buildings. Another problem is that a lot of people in cities live in rental houses. They may shift house many times, but fail to remove their names from electoral rolls of previous places. Also, the process for changing address should be simplified.”
Former Chief Electoral Officer of TN, Naresh Gupta, also is of the view that 100 percent polling is only a theoretical propagation. “Some think that whichever party comes to power, the system cannot be changed and so there is no purpose of voting? This ‘urban apathy’ is prevailing in cities. This time Covid threat was also there. Despite that, we got around 72 per cent turnout,” he added. Retired IAS officer MG Devasagayam said that Covid threat, voter apathy and lack of faith in EVMs may be the reason for the lower polling percentage.