The Election Commission is making a fresh push for two of its recommended changes to the poll process before the next cluster of state elections — Assam, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala — begin in six months.
The EC, under its new chief Nasim Zaidi and his colleagues Achal Kumar Jyoti and Om Prakash Rawat, has sought a meeting with Law Secretary G Narayana Raju this month to reiterate its demand to introduce totaliser machines for counting of votes and multiple cut-off dates for voter registration.
The poll panel, according to government sources, wrote to the law ministry on Monday, a day after the Bihar results were declared. The letter, written by Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha on behalf of the EC, also mentions the discussion points for the proposed meeting.
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The EC had first approached the law ministry, its administrative parent body, in 2008 with a proposal to introduce the totaliser machine on the counting day. The totaliser machine increases the secrecy of voting by counting votes polled at 14 polling booths together, as against the current practice of announcing booth-wise results. According to the EC, the identification of area-wise voting trends could encourage candidates and political parties to be vindictive with voters of those areas who did not vote for them.
The EC had proposed amendment to the Conduct of Election Rules to enable introduction of the totaliser. The government, however, doesn’t seem to have taken a view on this proposal. Responding to a question raised in the Rajya Sabha, then Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had only said, “Secrecy of votes being the essence of Indian democracy will certainly be ascertained before the introduction of any technological advancement in the voting or counting.”
The EC had also approached the law ministry last year to amend the Representation of the People Act to introduce multiple cut-off dates for voter registration. Currently, only those who are 18 years old as on January 1 are eligible to enrol themselves as voters that particular year. So a youth turning 18 on January 2 would have to wait till the next year for his/ her enrolment and could miss voting for a state election held in that year.
The EC has proposed four cut-off dates for voter enrolment in a year — January 1, April 1, July 1 and October 1. The law ministry reportedly wasn’t in favour of the idea as the Attorney General had opined that it would require an amendment to Article 326 of the Constitution which mentions a cut-off date and not a set of dates for eligibility to enrol voters.
The EC also wants to propose open voting by MLAs in the Legislative Council elections and discuss budget allocation for purchasing new electronic voting machines.