electoral roll: EC’s voting reforms may clear decks for one electoral roll, simultaneous polls

The Cabinet’s approval to allow registration of voters multiple times a year may appear a simple exercise, but it is also a major step for the government to realise grander plans such as introducing common electoral rolls and possibly even simultaneous polls.

A late November meeting called by the Prime Minister’s Office on the common electoral roll and another called by the cabinet secretary with states a few months ago, paved the way for some long-awaited electoral reforms.

On Wednesday, the Cabinet approved linkage of voter ID with Aadhaar, introduction of gender neutral service voter rules and voter registration multiple times in a year — the latter being sought by the ECI for nearly a decade now. The last, however, also prises open a possible non-legislative route to getting states to adopt a common electoral roll as well — after all, 25 states and 8 union territories are already using the ECI roll for local elections.

“To persuade the remaining states to use the electoral rolls prepared by the ECI for conduct of their local body elections, it is proposed to amend section 14(b) of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, to insert four qualifying dates, that is, 1 January, 1 April, 1 July, and 1 October, of every year”, the ECI submitted to the parliamentary panel.

The linkage with roll revision came to the fore most clearly at the Cabinet secretary’s meet with state chief secretaries on the subject of a common electoral roll — from the Parliament to panchayat elections.

ET learns that several states pointed out that the while the ECI issued a revised electoral roll in January every year, a state holding a municipal or panchayat poll in the latter half of the year would prefer using a more recently-updated electoral roll which the state election commissions could draw up and hence the reluctance for the ECI voter roll.

The ECI’s long-pending proposal on easing voter registration, emerged as a perfect solution. In fact, the ECI had first proposed allowing voters to be registered on the roll as and when they turned 18. The home ministry had opposed the idea saying this would burden the administrative machinery and suggested two windows in a year.

The cabinet has finally approved four windows in a year which will allow for near quarterly revision of the electoral roll, if sought by a state for its local polls.

Officials in the know say that this may even help skirt the requirement of getting states to amend their panchayat and state election commission laws, to adopt the common elector roll. This could be significant as the common electoral roll is also crucial to the larger NDA plan to hold simultaneous polls.

The December 10, 2021 report of the parliamentary committee chaired by BJP’s Sushil Modi states that a “common electoral roll will not only purify voters’ list, check electoral malpractices and unnecessary duplication but also ensure that there is no discrepancy in local body and assembly voters’ list”.

The committees add that “It believes that common electoral rolls can only help realising simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha, state assemblies and local bodies” and has called for “all out efforts” towards implementation of common electoral roll in the country. The common electoral roll has also figured in the Law Commission’s 2018 discussions with ECI on simultaneous polls.

The BJP’s 2019 manifesto had stated that it would work towards “a common voter list for all elections” and build consensus on “the idea of simultaneous elections for Parliament, state assemblies and local bodies”. The prime minister has time and again termed the move most desirable.

While all stakeholders agree that the logistics of effecting the same and getting all states on board would be challenging, the process has just got started.

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