India has earned accolades for successfully conducting so many elections. There is a huge electoral system that has been engaged in managing elections in India.
The task of conducting free, fair and impartial elections is entrusted to an impartial constitutional authority which is known as the Election Commission. The Election Commission is not a legal but is a constitutional body. A legal body is one which is created by the law of Parliament or State Legislature, while a constitutional body is one which is provided in the Constitution itself.
The Constitution provides for the Election Commission of India. The Election Commission consists of a Chief Election Commissioner and the number of Election Commissioners as the President may fix in accordance with the law.
The Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners are appointed by the President of India. They have tenure of six years or up to the age of 65, whichever is earlier. They enjoy the same status and service conditions as are enjoyed by the Judges of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed only by impeachment, through a procedure as applicable in the case of a Judge of the Supreme Court. The Election Commissioners can be removed by the President on the recommendations of the Chief Election Commissioner.
The main functions of the Election Commission of India are:
Ensure free and fair elections in the country
Supervise, direct and control the entire election machinery; preparation of electoral roll
Provide recognition to political parties and register them as national and state parties
Allotment of symbols to political parties and the numerous independent candidates contesting the elections
Issuing guidelines and code of conduct for the election officials, candidates, and for the political parties during the elections
Redressal of election complaints received from the voters, the candidates and the political parties
Appointment of electoral officials
Advising the President on matters relating to elections
The Election Commission performs its role with the help of a group of officials and by observing an election procedure as:
For the conduct of elections, the Election Commission is assisted by a number of officials. At the state level, the election work is supervised, subject to overall superintendence, direction and control of the Commission, by the Chief Electoral Officer of the State. The Chief Electoral Officer of the State is appointed by the Election Commission from among senior civil servants proposed by the concerned State government. He or She is, in most of the States, a full time officer and has a team of supporting staff.
The Election Commission utilises the State government officers for election work, by designating them as District Election Officers, Electoral Registration Officers, Returning Officers, Assistant Electoral Registration Officers, and Assistant Returning Officers.They all perform their functions relating to elections in addition to their own routine responsibilities. During election time, they are available to the Commission, more or less, on a full time basis. Out of these, there are three main officials who play very important roles in the conduct of free and fair elections. They are the Returning Officer, Presiding Officer and Polling Officer.
Returning Officer: In every constituency, one Officer is designated as Returning Officer by the Commission in consultation with the concerned State government. However, an Officer can be nominated as Returning Officer for more than one constituency. He or She is the official who (a) receives and scrutinises the nomination papers of the candidates contesting elections, (b) allots election symbols on behalf of the Election Commission, (c) conducts smooth elections in the constituency, (d) ensures counting of votes, and (e) declares the election results.
Presiding Officers: Every constituency has a large number of polling booths. Every booth, for 800-1000 voters, remains under the charge of an Officer who is known as Presiding Officer. He or She supervises the entire process in the polling booth and ensures that every voter gets an opportunity to cast vote freely and that there is no impersonation. After the polling is over, he or she seals all the ballot boxes and delivers them to the Returning Officer.
Polling Officer: Every Presiding Officer is assisted by three or four officials who are called the Polling Officers. These officials ensure that the elections take place smoothly at the polling booth. They check the names of the voters in the electoral roll, put indelible ink on the finger of the voter, issue ballot papers and ensure that votes are secretly cast by each voter.
The election process is a considerably long process having numerous stages.
Delimitation of constituencies is the first step which is undertaken by the Delimitation Commission.
Preparation and revision of the electoral roll constitute the next step done under the supervision of the Election Commission periodically.
Consequent upon the President’s and Governor’s notifications, the Election Commission undertakes the task of conducting elections in the country.
The election schedule is announced indicating the dates for filling the nomination papers, their scrutiny, withdrawals, polling, counting of the votes, and declaration of the election results.
Allotment of election symbols to the candidates, and the political parties is done by the Election Commission.
The candidates and the political parties are given time for election campaigns by the Election Commission.
Re-poll, if necessary, in a constituency or in a part of the constituency, is done only on the orders of the Election Commission.
Countermanding of election is done when a duly nominated candidate belonging to a recognised political party dies any time after the last date of withdrawals of the nomination papers and the commencement of the polling. The countermanding orders are issued by the Election Commission.
The election disputes such as improper rejection of nomination papers of the candidates, use of unfair or corrupt means during the elections, bribing and intimidating of voters, or the use of official machinery are probed by the judiciary, i.e. the High Court, and through appeals by the Supreme Court.
On the day of the polling, the voters go to their respective polling booths, and wait in a queue, for their turn. On entering the polling room, the voter discloses his or her identity to the first polling officer, and then to the second one. After that, another polling officer puts indelible ink on the first finger of left hand in the case of a male voter, and on the right hand in case of the female voter. This is done to avoid bogus or false voting or impersonation.
After the identification of the voter is done by the officials, the voter is given a ballot paper or is shown the electronic voting machine (EVM) containing the names of the candidates along with their respective election symbols.
If a ballot paper is given, the elector casts his or her vote by marking the ballot paper with a rubber stamp on or near the symbol of the candidate of his or her choice, inside a screened compartment in the polling station. The voter then folds the ballot paper and inserts it in a common ballot box which is kept in full view of the Presiding Officer and polling agents of the candidates.
But if the electronic voting machine is used, the voter uses the machine to indicate his or her choice of candidate. Secrecy is maintained so that nobody gets to know for whom the voter has voted. After the polling, boxes or EVMs are sealed and sent to the counting centres. The votes are counted and the candidate who obtains the largest number of votes is declared elected.
The candidate who fails to poll even one-sixth of the total votes cast in the constituency, forfeits his or her security deposits. If any candidate suspects corrupt practices used by the other candidates, he or she can file an election petition in the High Court. If the court is satisfied that corrupt means were used, the election is set aside. An appeal can be made in the Supreme Court against the decision of the High Court.
Impersonation: It is bogus voting. When somebody takes on a false identity and votes instead of the real person during elections, such an illegal act is called impersonation. It can be curtailed by compulsory identification through use of voters’ cards.
Indelible ink: This ink cannot be removed easily. It is put on the index finger of the right hand of the voter, so that a person does not come again to cast vote for the second time. This is done to avoid impersonation.
Ballot paper is a piece of paper which indicates the names of the candidates together with their election symbols. It is used to record the choices made by voters.
Secret Ballot is a voting method in which the voters’ choices are made confidential, in an election or in a referendum. The method is a means of achieving the objective of secrecy.
Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is a simple electronic device used in place of ballot papers and boxes which were used earlier in conventional voting system. It was first used in 1982 in the bye-election to Parur Assembly Constituency of Kerala for a limited number of polling stations (50 polling stations).
Plurality System refers to an election won by the candidate having maximum votes. This voting system is used at present to elect members of the legislative assembly in single-member and multi-member constituencies.
Proportional Representation is an electoral device to ensure representation of all sections of the people more or less in proportion to their voting strength. Under this system any group, whether it is a political party or interest group will secure representation in proportion to the popular votes it obtains.