Report No. 255
Increase in voter turnouts
9.12.2. On the first argument, it is relatively clear that compulsory voting results in an increased turnout, with different studies pointing to an increase between 7 to 17 percentage points.388 A comprehensive cross-country Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (hereinafter "IDEA") Study reveals that the difference in voter turnouts between the 28 countries with compulsory voting provisions on their statute books (regardless of enforcement levels) and the 171 countries without such provisions is 7.37%.389
388. Lijphart; L. Baston and K. Ritchie, turning out or turning off? An Analysis of Political Disengagement and what can be done about it (2004); G.B. Powell, Voting turnout in thirty democracies: Partisan, legal, and socio-economic influences in Electoral Participation: A Comparative Analysis (R. Rose eds., 1980); M. Franklin, Electoral Participation in Controversies in Voting Behavior (R. Niemi and H.F. Weisberg eds., 4th edn, 2001); E. Keaney and B. Rogers, A Citizen's Duty: Voter Inequality and the case for compulsory turnout, (London: Institute for Public Policy Research, 2006)
389. IDEA, Compulsory Voting,
<http://www.idea.int/vt/compulsory_voting.cfm>. (hereinafter "IDEA Compulsory voting")
9.12.3. Nevertheless, an increase in participation is a direct corollary of the severity and strict enforcement of sanctions. Studies have found that levels of abstention in compulsory voting regimes are highest when the quantum/type of penalty and the likelihood of its enforcement are high.390There are two major impediments arising from this penalty-enforcement conundrum in the replication of such high levels of turnout in Indi.- the imposition of a heavy penalty, and being likely to enforce it.
390. Costas Panagopoulos, The Calculus of Voting in Compulsory Voting Systems, 30(4) Political Behavior 455 (2008); Alistair McMillan, Force feeding Democracy, Indian Express, 18th November 2014,
9.12.4. The first is concerned with the determining the type of penalty. The current law is silent on the form of sanction, and clearly leaves such determination to the government. Consequently, it is unclear whether the penalty will amount to unnecessary coercion (as the "inhumane" suggestion before the Supreme Court in 2009 to cut off electricity and water supplies) or merely an informal sanction. Examples of the former are found in Peru, where defaulters cannot access certain government goods and services; Bolivia, where they are not entitled to receive their salaries for three months; and Belgium, where non-voters find it difficult to get a job in the public sector.391
391. IDEA Compulsoy voting, supra note 389
9.12.5. Although currently unspecified, the penalties under discussion include being disenfranchised; along with the possible denial of BPL cards, driving licenses, passports, and other services.392 Such measures are extreme and will disproportionately and adversely affect the poor or marginalised in India. The solution to non-voting as McMillan points out "cannot be to remove people from the electoral process."393
In fact, an unintended consequence of such a measure is the disincentive on "qualified voters" (which is yet undefined) from registering themselves on the voter registration lists. Moreover, instead of specifying the penalty in the law, the criminalisation of non-voting has been left to delegated legislation. This vests great powers with the State, which can use it as a potential tool for harassment.394 Conversely, if the penalty amounts to informal sanctio.- a mere slap on the wris.- then it will not act as a deterrent or have the desired effect.
392. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Acts of Choice, Indian Express, 221st December 2009,
<http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/acts-of-choice/557550/>; Contentious Gujarat Voting Law has RSS Blessing, BUSINESS STANDARD, 11th November 2014,
393. McMillan, supra note 390
394. Mehta, supra note 392
9.12.6. The second concern deals with the difficulty in implementatio.- a concern voiced in various committee reports (Dinesh Goswami, National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution), Parliamentary proceedings and Supreme Court decisions. Implementation (at a subsequent national level) involves the Election Commission making the more than 800 million eligible voters aware of the new law making voting compulsory.
The Commission has to then expend time and resources in sending notices to each of the non-voters, conduct hearings, and subsequently impose and implement the stipulated penalties. Former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Qureshi, terming the implementation "practically impossible", cautioned against adding to the caseload of the already overburdened judicial system.395 There are additional concerns regarding the registration process and faulty electoral roll.- voters lists often have defects and have names missing, a fact mentioned in the Parliamentary debates concerning Mr. J.P. Agarwal's proposed Bill.396
395. S.Y. Qureshi, Time to take up 'Right to Reject' Proposal, HINDUSTAN TIMES, 30th January 2012,
396. Further discussion on the motion for consideration of Compulsory Voting Bill, 2009, Lok Sabha Debates,
<http://188.8.131.52/LssNew/Members/DebateResults.aspx?mpno=2399>; RFGI, Analysis of Compulsory voting in Gujarat,