Law ministry

EC urges Ministry of Justice to address ongoing electoral reforms

India’s Election Commission has sent a fresh reminder to the Justice Ministry, asking for a “prompt review” of key electoral reforms pending with the government.

At least 40 electoral reform proposals made by the commission are pending approval.

In a communication sent to Justice Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on May 17, the new chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra identified a priority list of proposals. It includes: Aadhar-voter ID card link; access to a citizen’s voter card as soon as he reaches the age of 18; gender-neutral “voter service” rules; and declaring paid information a corrupt practice, people familiar with the development told ET.

Several of the pending proposals require changes to electoral laws and parliamentary approval.

“The desired changes to electoral laws will help to further improve our electoral system,” EC said in its letter.

With the five State/Union Territory assembly elections scheduled for this year already completed, the panel said it “intends to pursue issues regarding electoral reforms.”

ET saw a copy of the letter.

The polling committee also reminded the Department of Justice that it also addressed the issue of ongoing electoral reforms earlier, through communications dated July 26, 2019 and July 8, 2020.

The committee had also held a meeting with the secretary of the legislative department on February 18, 2020, where some of the proposed reforms were prioritized. The legal secretary then assured EC that the department was looking closely at the proposals, according to the latest letter.

Highest on the committee’s priority list is the proposal to link Aadhaar to voter ID. This would ensure voter roll deduplication and voter authentication. The link is also seen as key to the commission’s plans to offer “remote” voting rights to national migrants, allowing them to vote even if they are not at their voting address on Election Day.

The Aadhaar-voter identification link would require an amendment to the Representation of the People Act 1951. Another change requested by EC relates to section 14(b) of the PR Act, which relates to the registration of voters for the first time.

Another amendment requested by EC relates to section 14(b) of the PR Act, which relates to the registration of new voters.

Currently, only those who turn 18 on January 1 of a year are registered as voters in that year. For nearly a decade now, the polling committee has been recommending multiple registration dates for new voters.

Last heard from, the interior and justice ministries had discussed two dates a year – January 1 and July 1.

The third key recommendation involves amendments to Section 20(6) of the RP Act – to allow the husband of a female public office holder to be registered as a holds a position.

“Service voters” are those in government services and defense services assigned to locations other than the area where they are registered as voters. Currently, subsection (8) of Article 20 of the RP Act only allows the wife of a male military voter to vote as a military voter.

EC recommended that the gender-neutral word “spouse” be used in this clause so that resident husbands with serving wives could also vote. The commission also suggested that the same rights be given to children of military voters who are of voting age and who reside with their parents.

The poll committee proposed that paid news and false affidavits should be declared an electoral offence/corrupt practice punishable under the PR Act 1951 and that print and social media intermediaries should also be covered by Article 126 of the RP law to prevent the publication of advertisements in the written press 48 hours before the close of the poll, as in the case of the electronic media.