Everyone above the age of 18 who is registered as a voter in Gujarat will have to vote in the local body elections due by October — or face a penalty.
The Gujarat government is set to notify the law on compulsory voting ahead of the elections to seven municipal corporations and 300 other local bodies.
Those who are unable to go to the polling booth may vote online. For the first time, half the seats will be filled by women. Delimitation has led to every ward in a municipal corporation being split four ways — so every voter will cast four votes. The reservation for women was 33 per cent so far, so one seat for every three in a ward had a woman candidate.
Former State Election Commissioner K C Kapoor, who headed the committee that framed the compulsory voting rules, told The Indian Express: “We submitted the report long back and now the government is processing the draft notification after which objections will be invited, and then the final notification will be issued.”
Kapoor had tried to implement online voting in 2010. “However, the Centre had suspended bulk SMSes ahead of the Ayodhya verdict, and since our entire system was based on SMSes, it was not so successful,” he said.
The State Election Commission, which conducts the municipal elections, recently had a video conference with all Collectors and District Development Officers, and is set to spread the word about the new laws.
“We will soon launch a door-to-door campaign to create awareness. People should be aware that this time they are supposed to vote for sure, and that not voting isn’t an option. Also, they can use information technology to vote, and have the option of NOTA,” a senior SEC official said.
Government spokesperson and Health Minister Nitin Patel said the legal department had been working on the rules for compulsory voting. “There will be a punishment clause if a voter defaults,” he said. “We will soon have a clear idea of what extra resources, including additional electronic voting machines, staff and booths, will be needed to implement the new laws.”
Voter turnout in municipal elections has not crossed 60 per cent since 1995. If this is to change, the penalty for not voting will likely be key.
“There will be a penalty. When a law is passed, people should take it seriously,” an official said.
Former Governor Kamla Beniwal had sent back the Gujarat Local Authorities (Amendment) Bill 2009 twice, saying it was “against the principle of individual liberty”, and “violated freedoms guaranteed under Article 21”.
The opposition Congress has welcomed 50 per cent reservation for women, but is against compulsory voting and e-voting.
“The BJP has shown its nervousness by bringing in compulsory voting. If it thinks that its committed voters will now turn out in large numbers, it is mistaken,” Congress national spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil said.
Gujarat BJP vice-president and spokesperson I K Jadeja said, “Once the rules for compulsory voting are out, the party will work hard to create awareness about them.”
An online vote can be cast from a registered laptop or desktop, or from an e-polling booth manned by election officials. E-voters will be part of a separate voters’ list, registered along with the device they plan to use.
“Those who do not want to queue up in the heat can vote from their cars, or even from abroad,” Kapoor said.
E-voters will have to log on to the voting site, and will receive a PIN on their mobile phones. They must then cast their votes in the next five minutes. If that is not possible, the voter can call up the data centre to request a second attempt after 15 minutes, Kapoor said.