Common Electoral Roll and Simultaneous Elections

Recently the Centre has made clear that it will not be amending the Representation of the People Act, 1951 anytime soon, to enable a common electoral roll and simultaneous elections to all electoral bodies in the country. This comes after many concerns were expressed against the common electoral roll and the simultaneous elections. Also, no consensus was yet reached on the matter. In this article, you will learn in detail about the electoral roll, common electoral roll, simultaneous elections, their need and challenges in their implementation.

This article will help you immensely in preparing such topics for the IAS exam, especially the mains exam, where a well-rounded understanding of topics is a prerequisite for writing answers that fetch good marks.

This topic becomes part of the GS Paper-2 covering Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

List of Current Affairs Articles for UPSC

What is the Electoral Roll?

The list in which names of eligible electors ordinarily residing in an assembly constituency are listed in the voter’s list, by the registering authority, is called the Electoral Roll of that constituency.

Types of Electoral Rolls in India

  • Usually, in the present scenario, the voters’ list for the panchayat and municipality elections is different in most states from the one used for Parliament and Assembly elections. The reason for different lists is that the responsibility of supervision and conduction of elections in our country are with two constitutional bodies— 
    • Election Commission (EC) of India: Set up in 1950, it is entrusted with the responsibility of conducting polls to the offices of the President and Vice-President of India, and to Parliament, the state assemblies and the legislative councils.
    • State Election Commissions (SECs): They are in charge of conducting municipal and panchayat elections and are free to prepare their own electoral rolls for local body elections. They don’t need to coordinate with the EC for these elections. 
  • Since the SEC is governed by a separate state Act, some state laws allow the SEC to borrow and use the EC’s voter’s rolls in toto for the local body elections. Thus, the state commission uses the voters list from the EC to prepare and revise the rolls for municipality and panchayat elections. 
    • Currently, all states, except Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, adopt EC’s rolls for local body polls.

Current Affairs Questions in IAS Prelims are very important. Visit the linked article to attempt quizzes on current affairs.

What is the Common Electoral Roll?

Under the Common Electoral Roll, only one voter list will be used for Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha and other elections.

  • Advantages of Common Electoral Roll –

The most significant aspect of having the Common Electoral Roll is that it could save an enormous amount of effort and expenditure, as preparation of a separate voters list causes duplication of the effort and wastage of money.

  • Need of the Common Electoral Roll –

The Law Commission of India in 2015, in its 255th report, recommended adopting a single electoral roll. The EC too adopted a similar stance in 1999 and 2004, and pointed out that having different electoral rolls adds to confusion among voters, as sometimes they may find their names present in one roll, but absent in another.

  • Implementation of Common Electoral Roll –

For the implementation of the single electoral roll, there are two things that need to be done-

  1. Constitutional Amendment to Articles 243K and 243ZA– Articles 243K and 243ZA deal with elections to panchayats and municipalities in the states. These two give the power of direction, superintendence and control of preparation of electoral rolls and the conduct of these elections to the State Election Commission (SEC).
  2. To persuade the state governments to tweak their respective laws and adopt the Election Commission’s (EC) voters list for municipal and panchayat polls.
  • Challenges of building a Common Electoral Roll
    • The change of implementing the single electoral roll would require a massive consensus-building exercise.
    • To make the voter’s list, the boundaries of the EC’s polling station may not necessarily match that of the wards, which will create problems.

Also, read about Electoral Reforms in India in the linked article. 

Challenges of conducting Frequent Elections.

  • Massive expenditure, as our country is in the mode of conducting elections throughout the year.
  • Policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time.
  • Impact on delivery of essential services.
  • Burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time.
  • Puts pressure on political parties, especially smaller ones, as elections are becoming increasingly expensive.

Read about Important Amendments in the Indian Constitution, in the linked article.

What are Simultaneous Elections?

  • The concept of simultaneous elections was given under One Nation, One Election, which refers to holding elections to Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assemblies, Panchayats and Urban local bodies simultaneously, once every five years. 
  • The idea of Simultaneous Elections is about structuring the Indian election cycle in a manner so that elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies are synchronised and the election to both can be held within a given span of time.

Advantages of having Simultaneous Elections

  • Save money – It can keep a check on the poll expenses, party expenses and save a lot of public money, which can be put to use for other important causes.
  • Better Governance – Usually for a short term political gain from a particular assembly election, it is seen that generally ruling politicians avoid taking a harsh long term decision which can ultimately help the country in the long run. Thus, it will increase the efficiency of Governance by reducing the populist measures by governments.
  • Reduce the burden on administrative setup and security forces – This shall ensure timely implementation of the government policies and also ensure that the administrative machinery is engaged in developmental activities rather than electioneering.
  • Provide more time to all the stakeholders i.e. political parties, Election Commission of India (ECI), paramilitary forces, civilians for the preparation of elections once every five years.
  • The impact of black money on the voters will be reduced as all elections are held at a time.

Read about Parliament & State Legislature in the linked article.

Implementation of Simultaneous Elections 

For simultaneous elections to be implemented, the following changes need to be made in the Constitution and Legislations:

  • Article 83–  deals with the duration of Houses of Parliament
  • Article 85– deals with the dissolution of Lok Sabha by the President.
  • Article 172– deals with the duration of state legislatures.

Challenges of conducting Simultaneous Elections

  1. Synchronisation of Elections in the states and centre– The synchronisation of elections in all the states and the centre is a major problem because of the traditions and conventions followed by India’s Parliamentary system. Since the government is accountable to the Lower House, the fall of the government before completing its full term is a possibility. In that case, conducting an election will be important.
  2. Impact on Regional parties:

There is always a tendency for voters to vote for the same party in power in the state and at the Centre, in case the Lok Sabha polls and the state elections are held together.

  1. Consensus– It is difficult to convince and bring together all the political parties on the idea.
  2. Increased expenditure on infrastructure
    • The requirements for Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) will double, as the ECI has to provide two sets (one for election to the Legislative Assembly and the second for that to the Lok Sabha).
    • Increased requirement of the polling staff and need for better security arrangements.

Way Forward

Given the elections keep happening every few months at different places, it hampers the developmental work of the country. Thus, it’s imperative to have a deep study and deliberation on the idea of having a common electoral roll and conducting simultaneous elections, in order to prevent the impact of the model code of conduct on development works every few months. The beginning could be by at least bringing all parties together to co-operate and debate on the issue, followed by taking the public opinion.

Read more on the National Voters’ Day in the linked article.

Note: As UPSC 2022 approaches, use BYJU’S free Daily Video Analysis of The Hindu Newspaper to augment your preparation.

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