Daily Editorial Analysis for 6th July 2020

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Re-enfranchise the forgotten voter

Paper: II

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has made it possible for senior citizens above the age of 65 to vote by postal ballot, given that they are at greater risk from exposure to the novel coronavirus. Hitherto, this option was available only to disabled citizens and those above 80 years. However, postal ballots may not minimise the risk of infection and it may be better instead to provide separate voting booths for senior citizens.


  • In the light of the pandemic crisis, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has made it possible for senior citizens above the age of 65 to vote by postal ballot, given that they are at greater risk from exposure to the novel coronavirus. Previously, this option was available only to disabled citizens and those above 80 years.

Key Details:

  • India currently has over 91.05 crore registered voters and in the 2019 general election, a record 67.4%, i.e., 61.36 crore voters, cast their vote.
  • Almost one-third, amounting to a substantial 29.68 crore voters, did not cast their vote.
  • National Election Study surveys have shown that about 10% of registered voters refrain from voting due to a lack of interest in politics which implies that around 20 crore voters who want to vote are unable to do so.
  • This includes about three crores Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). Only about one lakh NRIs have registered to vote, presumably because voting requires their physical presence in India. Of them, about 25,000 voted in the 2019 elections.
  • A substantial proportion of the voters who are unable to vote would include the migrant labourers.

Migrant labourers in India:

  • Internal migrant workers constitute about 13.9 crores as in the Economic Survey of 2017, which is nearly a third of India’s labour force.
  • They travel across India in search of economic livelihood, in the construction sector, as domestic workers, in brick kilns, mines, transportation, security, agriculture, etc.
  • Many never intend to settle down and wish to return to their native villages and towns once their work is completed or the working season ends.
  • Often they toil in exploitative low-wage jobs, lacking identity and proper living conditions, without access to welfare and unable to exercise their voting rights.


The migrant workers face enormous difficulties in exercising their franchise.

  • Migrant workers become quasi-disenfranchised, forgotten voters because they cannot afford to return home on Election Day to choose their representatives.
  • Internal migrant workers do not enrol as voters in their place of employment since they find proof of residence hard to provide.
  • Since the migrant workers do not have a vote where they work, their concerns are easy to ignore in their host State. Sometimes, they are targeted for allegedly taking jobs away from the local population.
  • This leads to a callous attitude towards the plight of migrants. The migrant labourers are considered mostly politically powerless.
  • To enable NRIs to exercise their franchise, the government brought in legislation in the previous Lok Sabha to enable voting through authorised proxies. However, the proposed legislation has lapsed. The lack of such proposals for the internal poor migrants is evident.

Way forward:

  • Similar to the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme being ushered in to enable migrant workers and their family members to access Public Distribution System benefits from any fair price shop in the country, there is the need to usher in ‘One Nation One Voter ID,’ to ensure domestic ballot portability.
  • Migrants should be able to physically vote in their city of work based on the address on their existing voter IDs and the duration of their temporary stay.


  • To facilitate voting by migrant workers, the ECI could undertake substantial outreach measures using the network of District Collectorates.
  • The COVID-19 crisis mobilized governments and non-governmental organisations to set up registers and portals to reach out to migrant workers. The data available through this can be utilized to register migrant workers.
  • Given the developments in digital communications, it is technologically feasible to record and transfer votes to their respective constituencies without compromising the credibility of the election process.
  • There are operative systems that enable a form of voter portability that can serve as a model for re-enfranchising migrant workers.
  • Service voters (government employees) posted away from home can vote through the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS).
  • Classified service voters (e.g., military personnel) can vote through their proxies.
  • The ECI has said that it is testing an Aadhaar-linked voter-ID based solution to enable electors to cast their votes digitally from anywhere in the country.


Voting must be viewed as a civic right. Well-thought-out initiatives that facilitate voting and remove obstacles to voters exercising their franchise must be emphasized on. Ensuring that every Indian voter can participate in elections is imperative to ensure a democratically inclusive India. The ‘One Nation One Voter ID,’ approach would help empower the forgotten migrant voter. Once migrant workers get to exercise their franchise, there would also be a change in how they are treated.

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