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This article is written by Valli Rachana who is pursuing a Diploma in Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Laws from LawSikho.

Introduction

The Right to Vote is such a simple yet complex right known to every citizen in India. But what many citizens are not aware of is about the inherent value/ importance it holds. The Right to Vote is available in our country to almost everyone equally at 18 years of age irrespective of their religion, gender, education or literacy level. Voting is a fundamental right of every citizen who is of sound mind in India. It helps them to choose the leaders of tomorrow to contribute towards the country’s development. It helps for a better India.

Basically, in simple words, voting is a process that enables the citizens the right to choose their own government. In this way, it makes the nation’s government system work. By voting people can choose their representatives in the government. The chosen government takes care of the people’s needs and develops and executes various schemes, initiatives for the benefit of its people and the country.

History of voting rights in India and other countries

Voting means making little changes in the country’s development. If people are not interested in any of the candidates then there is NOTA. But denying voting directly means that the person is not interested in the country’s development. In India, almost everyone gets the right to vote after 18 years of age. But, there are many countries around the world in which this right is not available to everyone equally. Also, contrary to these countries, there are other countries where voting is made compulsory which makes it one’s DUTY TO VOTE. These countries have a rule as to illegal not to vote.

Going back to the 19th century, in many countries, voting rights were given on the basis of race, gender, social class and wealth. In fact, there are some countries where only landowners were only given the right to vote. 

The reason behind this is because there was only one form of tax which was property tax.  Only the people who paid tax were allowed to vote. Later many social classes appeared and everyone voted based on how much tax they paid. 

Also, in the countries like the U.S, there was discrimination on the basis of skin colour. In other countries like Prussia, voters were divided into three classes based on the amount of tax paid. One who paid the most taxes belongs to the first category and the lowest taxpayer belonged to the third category. Until the 1960s, countries like Canada and Australia did not give voting rights to Indigenous people. Until the 20th century, there were many countries where voting rights were given based on one’s literacy level. In fact, there were literacy tests conducted in many US states to determine if one was eligible to Vote. This affected minority and poor people who had a disadvantage. This was prevalent in countries like Canada, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil.

The voting age prevalent in most of the countries like Austria, Brazil and Argentina including in India is 16 years. In some countries like Oman and Lebanon, the voting age is as high as 21 years. Coming to the point on those who cannot have voting rights are Prisoners. Criminality is one of the reasons as to prisoners do not have voting rights in India. Also, the same applies to countries like France, Germany and the U.S. 

Historically, there were some countries that do not give voting rights based on their religion like the Maldives that only gives voting rights to Muslim Citizens which is still prevalent. In many western countries, Voting rights were decided based on gender and voting rights of women were given only after the 19th century. New Zealand was the first country that gave women and all the people equal voting rights.

In India, post-independence we were given the right to vote equally irrespective of religion, gender, literacy level. But, what will happen if our voting rights turn into a duty? What if it was compulsory for us to vote? There are many countries even today where there is compulsory voting rule been made. Belgium is one such country that has been using compulsory voting since the longest time. The penalty for not voting is one may have to pay fine or face prosecution. 

Historically, Spain, Switzerland, Netherlands, Italy and Venezuela had compulsory voting but it was abolished.

Today, there are 22 countries, that practice compulsory voting but out of these 22, only 11 enforce this. If you do not vote in Singapore, you could be disenfranchised which means a Citizens right can be withdrawn. In Peru and Greece, Public goods and Services can be withdrawn to the Citizens that do not vote.  In Brazil, one’s passport can be taken away if they do not vote. In Bolivia, which is a South American country, citizens who do not vote could be barred from withdrawing three months of their salary. Whether in India, compulsory voting be made or not? There can be arguments on both sides. 

Also, the Sixty-first Amendment of the Constitution of India, officially known as The Constitution (Sixty-first Amendment) Act, 1988, lowered the voting age of elections to the Lok Sabha and to the Legislative Assemblies of States from 21 years to 18 years. This was done by amending Article 354 of the Constitution, which concerns elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assemblies.

The UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) Article 21 states: Everyone has a right to take part in the government of his/her country, directly/through freely chosen representatives. 

Reasons to vote

It’s our right

One such reason to vote is that it’s our right. It can be claimed by us. It’s an individual opinion to vote for the person one likes.

You can change

By voting, one will cast his right of opinion to elect a representative he wants. In this way, in a case when the person gets selected on whom the person cast his right, it will lead to a change for a better India.

Your vote counts

Every vote counts. Each and every vote makes a difference. When one casts a vote, it will be counted and taken into account. Therefore, there is no logic as one’s right will get wasted.

NOTA

NOTA means ‘None of the above’. This is an option given to the people to choose in any case if people are not satisfied with any of the candidates. This option will make a great difference. when many people go for this option, it will mean that there are not enough candidates.

Who can vote

Our Indian Constitution has particularly laid certain qualifications to become eligible for voting in India. 

  • One must be a Citizen of India;
  • One must be above 18 years of age;
  • Must be of sound mind.

If one becomes eligible for voting in India, then the person can participate in the following types of elections held in our country:

  • National-level elections;
  • State-level elections;
  • Local government body elections;
  • District level elections.

As per the voting rules:

  • You can cast only one vote.
  • You must have Voter ID or EPIC card or photo identity election card.
  • You can vote only at your registered constituency.

How can you vote

The two methods how to cast your vote, are mentioned below:

Visiting the polling booth

By visiting the pooling booth, one can cast his vote in the election. This will clarify no fake vote has been cast on that person’s behalf.

Using the postal ballot

This vote is by via Post. This facility is offered particularly to those people who cannot go to the polling booth themselves due to some unavoidable circumstance; for example, the armed forces personnel, electoral officers on duty, policemen who are on duty, people on preventive detention, etc.

Case Laws

The Supreme Court of India pronounced a landmark judgement on Friday, the 27th September, 2013 through a bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai and Justice Ranjan Gogoi while hearing a Petition filed in the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India and gave citizens of India the right to reject all candidates in elections. The Apex Court further instructed the Election Commission to ensure that the Electronic Voting Machines and ballot papers should have a button that will allow the voters to choose none of the above option and the right to say none of the above should be kept secret.

It further said:

“Negative voting would foster purity and vibrancy in elections and negative voting would bring a systemic change in the election process as the political parties will be forced to project clean candidates in polls.”

Conclusion

As India being a developing country, compulsory voting will bring good changes to our democratic system. It is time for that RIGHT to be converted to a DUTY. The right to vote is a fundamental right that helps our governmental system works. Therefore, it cannot simply be waived or neglected. It is simply not justified as a right not to vote. One must see their right to vote as their duty. The right to vote gives the individuals to make a better tomorrow by choosing its representatives of the government who can make proper changes according to the needs of the people and strive for proper functioning of the government. 

Also, compulsory voting may seem a bit restricting of one’s liberty/freedom to vote. But, at the same time it will enhance our autonomy which is much needed for a developing country like India. There are arguments on both sides as to whether in India compulsory voting be made or not. Time will only tell us as to which one should prevail. 


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