Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on elections and the forgotten voter

In order to ensure that participation in the electoral process does not result in the spread of the pandemic, and to protect the vulnerable voters, the election commission of India has taken a lot of measures. For example, to protect vulnerable voters such as elderly people and those suffering from co-morbid conditions, the Election Commission has decided to introduce postal ballot, for voters above the age of 65 years, by using its powers under the Representation of the People Act (RPA).

Before this pandemic in India, the postal ballot was available only to disabled voters and those above the age of 80 years. Now as a result of the pandemic, the Election Commission has extended this facility to everyone above the age of 65 years. This step by the Election Commission has been highly appreciated and is seen as a step to expand the voter base and ensure that as many voters as possible could participate in the election. On the same lines, separate voting booths could also be introduced for the voters above 65 years of age.

Election Commission

However, on the other hand, there has been neglect and disenfranchisement of the migrant workers by the Election Commission as well as by the government. As per the economic survey of 2019, there are around 14 crore migrant workers in the country and most of them are not in a position to participate in the electoral process, because they simply cannot afford to return to their respective constituency on the election day.

Because of certain challenges, like problems in enrolling as a voter at their place of work by failing to show proof of residence, etc. the migrant workers are majorly ignored and not considered and treated as a vote bank by the political class and the government. And this dis-enfranchisement of the migrant workers make them lose their voice, and their inability to vote results in the neglect of their concerns.

Interestingly, the mandate of Election Commission of India is to expand the voter base and increase participation in elections. In a country with a population of nearly 1.4 billion, India has a record number of registered voters which stands at 91 crores. This is what makes India the world’s largest democracy. And this makes the Indian national elections the world’s largest democratic exercise.

In the 2019 national elections, the data shows that out of 91 crore registered voters, almost 61 crores came out and voted which means nearly 30 crores of the registered voters stayed out of the election process. For this group, the Election Commission of India runs dedicated awareness programs in order to raise voter awareness in the hope that this would increase voter participation.

Out of the 30 crore non-participants, nearly 3 crores are the NRI who have not cast their vote in the 2019 national elections. The ECI and the government of India have been considering to make special provisions for them in order to enable them to vote. For example, last year, the government of India introduced legislation in the parliament to allow proxy voting through which NRIs could nominate their proxies who could vote on their behalf.

While this legislation has lapsed, it is interesting to note that the government and the Election Commission have shown a lot of interest to ensure that the 3 crore NRIs do not miss their chance to vote, but at the same time, it is ironic and unfortunate that they have chosen to ignore the migrant workers who are not in a position to participate in the electoral process.

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