India's new electoral reform bill: Linking Aadhaar to voter IDs

India's new electoral reform bill: Linking Aadhaar to voter IDs

It can be linked through SMS with a phone call at the national voter service portal or by visiting the nearest booth level office in the area.

India's Upper House of Parliament on Tuesday passed a significant electoral bill to link Aadhaar with voter ID cards.

The Aadhaar card is a unique 12-digit ID. It is given to the residents of India based on their biometric data. As per the new bill, Aadhaar will now be linked to voter identity cards.

It will however be optional and voluntary. If a person does not want to link the two it won't be mandatory. However, in case a person wants to link the two - Aadhaar and voter ID- when can it be registered?

It can be linked through SMS with a phone call at the national voter service portal or by visiting the nearest booth level office in the area.

India's new electoral reform bill: Linking Aadhaar to voter IDs
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The move helps to solve the problem of fake votes and duplication and to end multiple enrolments by the same person from different places.

It is also aimed at cleaning electoral rolls by removing names that appear multiple times. The government says it is part of a larger reform. The election laws amendment bill seeks to make some significant changes in the electoral law.

The changes include a person being able to register as a voter after turning 18. Until now, a person could do it only once before 1st January each year, so if an individual turned 18 after 1st January, the person had to wait an entire year to register as a voter.

Under the new law, voter registration will be more flexible and voter lists will be revised four times a year - on 1st January, April, July and October and electoral rolls in India will be revised after each time.

Elections will be also become gender-neutral for service voters. The service voters are those in the armed forces. They enjoy some special privileges like voting through proxy. They are allowed to do due to the nature of their job. Until now, only the wife of service personnel could enrol herself as a service voter.

The provision applied only to the wives. However, a woman officer's husband does not qualify as a service voter. He is not entitled to this special facility. The new law intends to change it. The bill proposes to replace the word "wife" with "spouse" and that makes this provision gender-neutral.

These are important changes. The government says it makes elections smoother and more transparent but critics do not agree especially over the linkage of Aadhaar with voter ID cards.

It's proving to be controversial. They say this move is outside the legislative competence of the Parliament and that it violates the fundamental right to privacy and will be used for voter profiling and targeted campaigning.

It may also lead to mass disenfranchisement, critics claim. They have cited an incident from 2018 when a large number of voters went missing from electoral rolls. It happened during the Assembly elections in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

On voting day, approximately 27 lakh voters were missing from the rolls in Telangana and around 20 lakh voters were missing from the rolls in Andhra Pradesh. It was apparently due to a software error. A mistake while linking Aadhaar with voter IDs. It is what the chief electoral officer of Telangana suggested as he blamed it on faulty software including other factors for example migration of voters due to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and the lack of door-to-door verification of registered voters.

In the end, the administration could not decide what caused the error and there's no guarantee that this won't happen again. The fact is in India there are a substantial number of duplicate voters and there are a lot of people who register at multiple places.

A lot of voters also keep changing cities and then fail to register themselves again. In a country where a lot of young people are migrating internally for jobs and education, several votes are lost which leads to a bigger disenfranchisement and now by linking the voter ID with the Aadhaar, the election database can be decluttered.

It's a win-win for both the voter and the Election Commission, however, precedents must be taken into account while executing it in order to improve the bill and make changes where necessary to ensure smooth execution.

However, opposing reforms for the sake of opposing, politicising bills without understanding them properly will only stall India from solving its many problems.

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