A group of 100 former state and central civil servants, part of the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), has written a open letter to the Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra urging the apex election body to ensure the integrity and accuracy of electoral rolls, and make targeted efforts to include vulnerable populations in them.
With this letter, the CCG aims to urgently draw attention to the key role and current issues of the electoral roll ahead of the upcoming general elections to state assemblies in 2022.
The CCG, which describes itself as a non-partisan group committed to uphold Indian Constitution, had earlier constituted the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE). Earlier this year, the CCE brought out two volumes of reports highlighting a number of critical issues pertaining to the conduct of elections in 2021.
Taking a cue from the CCE’ report, the CCG raised a five-point demand for better conduct of elections with an accurate and exhaustive electoral roll.
Demanding the inclusion of all eligible voters in the electoral roll, the CCG’s letter pointed out the persistent exclusion of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, such as persons from religious and caste minority communities, women, Dalits, Adivasis, trans-people, the urban homeless, persons with disabilities and persons with mental health issues.
“If certain populations are excluded from electoral rolls because of their social and economic disadvantage, this amounts to their disenfranchisement and the denial to them of their most fundamental right in a democracy,” the letter said. It suggested the electoral registration (ER) machinery in districts and municipal areas to enlist the services of NGOs and civil society groups as well as political parties in constituencies to detect excluded names.
The letter also stressed on the need for the ECI to make special rules for the urban homeless and special measures for differently-abled persons. They underlined the issue of homeless people not having addresses and red tapes of registration and verification that lead to this vulnerable population being left out of the electoral role.
The CCG urged the ECI to develop a simple process for verification of voter names by electoral roll part to eliminated the problem of voters reaching polling stations on voting day and finding their names missing from the electoral rolls.
Pointing out discrepancies in the ER process, the letter said even if a person was provided with an EPIC Electors Photo Identity Card, her/his name figuring in the relevant electoral roll was not guaranteed.
They suggested different methods, including an updated data entry software with a warning system, to ensure a foolproof process of eliminating duplicate entries in the electoral rolls. “To check bogus voting, concerted efforts need to be made to systematically weed out names of those voters who have relocated elsewhere or are no more, especially given the migration and mortality trends in the Covid pandemic period,” the letter said.
In its letter, the CCG opposed linking of Aadhaar with Voter IDs arguing that it would be a gross violation of the citizen’s right to privacy. While the EPIC-Voter ID is given to voters by a constitutional authority (the ECI) and forms the basis of the electoral roll, the Aadhaar ID is a government sponsored identity, it said. “Linking the Voter ID and the Aadhaar number appears to be clearly unconstitutional, apart from not being provided for in the Aadhaar Act,” the letter said.
With regards to the preparation of accurate electoral rolls, the CCG suggested focus on three aspects: “(a) processes for inclusion of all voters, irrespective of whether they apply or not; (b) avoiding exclusion through correct processing of all applications for inclusion and ensuring no spurious deletions; (c) ensuring no duplicate/false entries.”
It said that to address these three aspects, data organisations and processes have to be designed so as to enable local communities to publicly audit and verify all additions and deletions from electoral rolls. The CCG also recommended maintaining of electoral records on online Public Bulletin Boards, which would ensure transparency and public verifiability.