"I realise that some of my criticisms may be mistaken; but to refuse to criticize judgements for fear of being mistaken is to abandon criticism altogether... If any of my criticisms are found to be correct, the cause is served; and if any are found to be incorrect the very process of finding out my mistakes must lead to the discovery of the right reasons, or better reasons than I have been able to give, and the cause is served just as well."

-Mr. HM Seervai, Preface to the 1st ed., Constitutional Law of India.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Election Law

Right to get registered as a voter

The Hindu of today carry a news - First time and legal - about the National Law School of India University, Bangalore (NLSIU) students successfully registering themselves as voters. Kudos to all who worked for it.

Thought, this could be an occasion to educate ourselves about the legal processes of registering as a voter. The right to be registered as a voter flows from Article 326 of the Constitution of India. This right is extended to every citizen of India who is not less than 18 years of age and not otherwise disqualified by any law made by the legislatures in this aspect. The disqualifications are non- residence, unsoundness of mind, for committing crime,corrupt or illegal practices.

There exists plenty of literature, both academic and case laws, which has debated the nature of the right to vote. The three competing categories to pigeon hole this right are; fundamental right, constitutional right or statutory right. The judiciary in India seems to have put an end to the debate by holding that the right to vote is a creature of the statute and hence a statutory right. Despite this the other line of argument is alive that democracy is basic feature of the Constitution and the right to democratic governance make the right to vote an inevitable fundamental right. The constitutional prescription of 'adult suffrage' in Art. 326 makes it at least a constitutional right if not a fundamental right for some ohters.

The right to register as a voter, qualifications and disqualifications thereof and the process of registering oneself as a voter is scattered in two different but related laws, besides the Constitution . The Representation of People Act, 1950 (R.P Act)and The Registration of Electoral Rules, 1960 are those relevant laws. Part III of the R.P Act contains the provisions about the qualifications and disqualifications to register oneself as a voter. Section 19 of the R.P Act prescribes the conditions for registration. Age and residency are the two criteria to be considered.

The aspect of 'ordinary residency' is the one which has always been contested, especially in the case of students who live for a long duration in hostels or otherwise in places other than their permanent residence. Section 20 of the Act explains ordinary residence and seems to suggest that it is your stay in a place for a considerable period that matters. This section provides for the scope of registration in specific instances of persons in service, elected representatives etc. What one need to be reminded of here is that a person is prohibited to have his/her name registered in more than one constituency or more than once in a constituency. (Sections 17 and 18)

Part I of the Registration of Electors Rules 1960 (Rules), details the process of getting oneself registered as a voter. A person desirous of registering oneself as voter is to submit an application in Form 6 (attached to the Rules) to the designated Electoral Registration Officer. In case the person is already registered as a voter elsewhere that can be deleted therefrom for which the application is to be submitted in Form No. 8A. The decision of the Electoral Registration Officer is appealable ( Rule 27) to the Chief Electoral Officer within 15 days from the date of the order appealed against.

It is heartening to know that the students of NLSIU have taken the initiative to get themselves registered as voters. Casting vote is an important element of active participation in the political process of the country. This becomes special against the background of the fear expressed by many about the apathy of the young educated towards politics and political processes.

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