Lok Satta

Thursday, 05 February 2009 07:09

Voter Registration

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Latter to Chief Election Commissioner
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Latter to Chief Election Commissioner

One of the easily remediable defects in our electoral process pertains to voter registration. News media are full of stories of people who went to polling booths on the election day only to discover that their names had not been enrolled as voters.  Objective surveys reveal that there are far too many defects in the electoral rolls.

The Election commission has taken several proactive steps in the recent years to improve the quality of electoral rolls. Among these initiatives is the involvement of post offices in voter registration during intensive, summary and special revisions.  The involvement of the 155,000 citizen-friendly delivery post offices in voter registration process dramatically improves access, transparency and fairness.  Now the process needs to be taken to the logical conclusion by involving the post offices in voter registration and declaring the respective post masters as Assistant Electoral Registration Officers for the polling stations under their jurisdiction.

There is a compelling case to make all the post offices – sub-post offices as well as branch post offices – the nodal agencies for voter registration. Each post office will cater to about 7000 population or about 4500 voters on an average, which is the equivalent of three or four local polling stations. The process of voter registration can be made transparent, verifiable and self-correcting by involving post offices in the following activities:

    1. Display of electoral rolls pertaining to the polling station areas served by the post office.
    2. Sale of electoral rolls of those polling stations for a reasonable price.
    3. Sale of statutory forms for inclusion, deletion or correction of names (forms 6, 7, 8, 8A and 8B).
    4. Receipt of applications with acknowledgement
    5. Verification based on post office’s data bank as well as local enquiries and knowledge of local residents for a processing fee collected from the applicant.
    6. Registration of voter’s name, deletion or correction, or rejection of application at the post office level – with a provision for appeal to the Electoral Registration Officer.
    7. Intimation to the applicant about the decision on the application
    8. Display and sale of addendum containing revisions along with electoral rolls.

These can be entrusted to post offices merely by giving orders under existing law and rules. The Election Commission through an executive order, can appoint persons as Assistant Electoral Registration Officers (AEROs) to assist the Electoral Registration Officers (EROs), as per 13-C of RP Act (1950). The post masters or Branch post masters of all delivery post offices can be designated/appointed as AEROs on a permanent basis for the polling station areas under their jurisdiction, for intensive, summary or special revisions as ordered by the Election Commission from time to time.  The designated AEROs can receive and process applications and claims and register voters or delete names or correct entries after following due process as per Rules 14 to 22 and Rule 26 of the Registration of Electors Rules (1960).

All such corrections shall be displayed at the post office and incorporated in the electoral roll for the polling station.  A provision can be made in the procedures to ensure that the AERO furnishes a monthly return to the Electoral Registration Officer of the Assembly Constituency, so that the electoral rolls can be updated at the constituency level.  The final list prepared by the AERO at the polling station level will be the final and authoritative list of electors at the time of election.

Complete transparency and provision for appeal will act as effective safeguards against abuse of the process.  The additional workload on the post office on account of these services will be minimal.  Most activities like display, sale and receipt of forms can be handled across the counter.  Local verification of applications is the only field level task, and the postal staff are eminently suited to undertake this function.   The postal department needs to be involved in the whole exercise very closely, and a reasonable fee structure needs to be evolved to compensate postal employees as well as the department.  A revenue-generating structure for corrections between two revisions is suggested below:

 

No

Service/Function

Suggested charge to be recovered by the Post Office from the citizen

1

Display of electoral rolls pertaining to the polling station areas served by the post office

Free of cost.

2

Sale of electoral rolls of those polling stations

For a standard price across the country of Rs. 10 per copy for polling station.

3

Sale of statutory forms for inclusion, deletion or correction of names (forms 6, 7, 8, 8A and 8B)

Re. 1 per copy

4

Receipt of applications/ forms with acknowledgement.
Processing of application including verification based on post office’s data bank as well as local enquiries and knowledge of local residents.

A reasonable amount, not exceeding Rs. 5 per application.

5.

Actual registration of voter’s name, deletion or correction, or rejection of application at the post office level – with a provision for appeal to the Electoral Registration Officer

Covered by the processing fee (No. 4 above).

6

Intimation to the applicant about the decision on the application

Covered by the processing fee (No. 4 above).

7

Display of addendum containing revisions along with electoral rolls

Free of cost.

 

The Election Commission needs to issue executive orders permitting collection of the above fees from citizens who seek those services. Those citizens who do not wish to pay a fee can still avail those services as now – through revenue or municipal offices. 

The voter registration-related activities will thus be an important source of revenue to post offices, considering the large number of elections with common electoral rolls – Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assembly, and local Panchayat or Municipality.  (In many states, the Assembly electoral rolls are adopted for local governments also).

Making post offices nodal agencies for voter registration will be the single most important, least-cost, most effective measure to improve the integrity of the electoral rolls and involve citizens as active participants in the electoral process.  Such a change can be effected by appropriate executive orders of the Election Commission.

I urge you to initiate the process in the consultation with the Department of Posts and issue necessary executive orders institutionalizing the role of post offices in electoral registration on a permanent basis. The new arrangements may kindly be widely publicized through creative media advertising in all languages, including electronic media. I am enclosing a detailed note on the subject for your kind perusal.

In rural areas, the Election Commission has been involving Gram Sabhas for verification of electoral rolls during revisions. But there is no equivalent of Gram Sabha in urban areas. However, as part of the National Urban Renewal Mission, Area Sabhas are being institutionalized for community participation. The structure of the Area Sabha is built around one or more polling stations. Therefore, Area Sabha is well suited for capturing changes in electoral rolls in urban areas. The Election Commission may kindly examine and issue orders involving Area Sabhas in urban areas, on par with Gram Sabhas in rural areas, during revision of electoral rolls.

With warm regards,
Jayaprakash Narayan
National Coordinator