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Right to Vote: A Cornerstone of Democracy

  • 27 May 2024

Historical Context: From British Colony to Independent India

As a colony under British Rule, the right to vote in India was severely limited and restricted to a few individuals. Indian Council Act, 1861, which marked the beginning of representative institutions, had members nominated by the Viceroy while the Indian Councils Act of 1892 expanded the council and introduced a very limited election. With the passage of Morley Minto Reforms of 1909, the number of members in the Legislative Council was increased from 16 to 60 and yet, the electorate remained small. This act also introduced the separate electorate for Muslims. The Government of India Act of 1919, also known as Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms introduced a diarchy system of governance. For the first time, direct elections were introduced but the voting rights were only with a small percentage of male population. The Government of India Act of 1935 expanded the right to vote and provided provincial autonomy. Despite these successive acts, the right to vote remained with a handful of people. It excluded a vast majority of the population leading to a very limited representation. Additionally, provisions like that of a separate electorate fostered a sense of communal division.

It was only when India gained independence in 1947 that every adult citizen got a right to vote. With the adoption of the Constitution of India on November 26, 1949, we also adopted the provision of Universal Adult Franchise. This was not only significant but also historic. It meant that every adult citizen of India, regardless of their caste, creed, race, gender or ethnicity had the right to vote. With its vast and diverse population, holding India's first general elections in 1951 and 1952 was an enormous undertaking. With over 173 million registered voters, these elections were historic and the largest democratic exercise in the world. Mr.Sukumar Sen, the first Chief Election Commissioner of India noted, “The establishment by the Constitution of the democratic and Parliamentary form of Government in the country on the basis of adult franchise was like the rejoining of a historic thread that had been snapped by alien rule. Franchise on a liberal scale had been common in various parts of ancient India, and by providing for universal adult suffrage, the country boldly achieved the consummation of its electoral aspirations on a national basis.” This exercise had its own challenges. Conducting elections in a newly independent country, with a massive population, had various logistical challenges. A vast majority of the population was illiterate and various western critics thought that this was rather impossible. However, the elections were conducted and India passed the test of democracy, much to the surprise of many observers.

Fast forward to 1988, another milestone was brought by the introduction of 61st Constitution Amendment Act which reduced the voting age from 21 years to 18 years. This included the younger population, the youth of the country, in the electoral process and expanded the franchise to youngsters. This change was seen as progressive since it was far more representative of the demographic reality of the country.

Constitutional Provisions Safeguarding Voting Rights

Article 324-329 in Part XV of the Constitution of India provides the framework for free and fair elections. It provides the following provisions:

  • Article 324: The Constitution, through Article 324 provides for an independent Election Commission, in order to ensure free and fair elections in the whole country. The superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls for, and the conduct of, all elections to Parliament and to the Legislature of every state and of elections to the offices of President and Vice-President is vested in the Election Commission of India.
  • Article 325: No person is to be declared ineligible for inclusion in the electoral roll on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or any of them.
  • Article 326: The elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies are to be on the basis of Adult Franchise. Thus, every person who is a citizen of India and who is 18 years of age, is entitled to vote at the election.
  • Article 327 and Article 328: As per these Articles, the Parliament and the State Legislatures can make provision with respect to all matters relating to elections to the Parliament and the State Legislatures.
  • Article 329: This article of the Constitution of India bars the interference of the courts in the electoral matters.

Election Commission of India: The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority that is responsible for Union and State Legislature elections in India. It is a three-member body, with one Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners. The ECI was established in accordance with the Constitution, on 25 January 1950. Today, this day is celebrated as the National Voters Day.

It must be noted that the ECI administers elections for the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies, as well as for the offices of President and Vice President. Although, it is not responsible for the conduct of elections at Panchayats and Municipal Levels, for which the State Election Commission exists.

Voting Process: Knowing the Basics

The first question is, who is eligible to Vote in India?

Every person who is a citizen of India and who is 18 years of age, is entitled to vote at the election provided he is not disqualified under the provisions of the Constitution or any law made by the appropriate legislature (Parliament or state legislature) on the ground of non-residence, unsound mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practice.

How can one register themself as a Voter?

Any citizen who is eligible to vote can register themselves as a voter by filling out Form 6. This is for inclusion of names in the electoral roll. It can be either done on the National Voters Service Portal Or can be done in offline mode by submitting it to the nearby Electoral Registration Officer of their constituency. The eligible applicants need to submit their documents including a proof of age, their residence and identity, following which a Verification process is done by the Booth Level Officer who may visit the applicant's residence. Once verified, the applicant's name is included in the electoral roll of their constituency.

How to vote on Polling day?

Polling is conducted on different days in different constituencies to ensure security and regular monitoring. On the day of polling, polling stations are set up in nearby public institutions, across the constituencies. These are usually schools, or community halls. In order to enable electors to vote, the attempt by the EC is made to ensure that there is a polling booth within 2 km reach of each voter. No polling booth should need to deal with more than 1500 voters in order to ensure accountability.

Once the voter reaches the polling booth, their name is checked in the electoral roll and an indelible ink is put on the finger along with a slip. The voter deposits this slip to another official, and proceeds to the polling booth. Through EVMs (earlier Ballot Paper), the voter can choose their representative. Once a beep sound is heard, your vote has been recorded. Through the Voter Verifiable Audit Paper Trail (VVPAT), you can check the candidate/party you've voted for, following 7 seconds after which it drops in a sealed box. In case of any discrepancy, you must report it to the presiding officer who is present on the booth.

Significance of Voting in a Democracy

Most countries in the world, today, claim themselves to be democratic. Whether they are democratic in practice or not is a question of other discussion, but one thing that is certain is that democracy requires elections. In a democracy, voting is thus extremely important for the purpose of elections. Voting is the prime tool through which citizens of a country choose their representatives.

It is impossible to think of a healthy democracy without a free and fair election procedure in which each adult citizen gets to vote. Using their votes, the citizens decide the political party which would form the government. This ensures that the ruling party in the government is accountable to its citizens. It also ensures transparency and legitimacy to its citizens. Regular free and fair elections ensure participation as well as keeps the democracy alive, in principle and in practice.

Since every citizen's vote counts equally regardless of their social or economic background, voting advances political equality. The democratic ideal, which holds that every person has an equal voice in the decisions that impact their life, is based on this notion of political equality. High voter turnout guarantees that elected officials take into account the interests and goals of a diverse range of people and prevents the domination of small interest groups.

This empowerment encourages civic involvement and active citizenship by fostering a sense of ownership and oversight towards the direction of the nation. Voting gives people a voice in government choices and policies that affect everything from security and infrastructure to healthcare and education and how they live their daily lives.

Challenges to Inclusive Voting and Ways to Overcome the Barriers

  • The voter turnout in the first two phases of Elections in 2024 is reportedly lower than in 2019. The factors affecting the low turnout of voters are many. While some political analysts think it's due to the “low-quality” political discourse, others believe that the heatwave in many parts of India is affecting the voters. Additionally, some believe that there is “no competition” and thus, the low turnout.

It's true that the voter's Apathy with the political process has been considered as a major reason for low voter turnout, in general. Many a times, voters feel disillusioned with the politics and wrongfully, believe that their vote does not make a difference. They might also lack the understanding about the electoral process. This challenge needs constant redressal. As argued, often, the voters lack the understanding about “what they should know”. This, for instance, includes the awareness about the electoral roll, polling booth, the process, the timings at the polling booth etc. For this purpose, civil society organisations and media houses must play a larger role and educate the voters. The ECI, too, has started to run a flagship programme called Systematic Voters Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) and is focusing on three parts of it: information, motivation and facilitation.

Politics is considered by ordinary citizens as a “dirty game”. The problems like that of criminalisation of politics, bogus voting, intimidation, and many such malpractices are unfortunately real. However, these challenges can be resolved, beginning on some levels. Geographical barriers in remote areas is also a challenge, extending to various other logistical and administrative challenges. Additionally, for groups like women and people with disabilities, the challenges are multifold. Due to safety concerns, women may be deterred from exercising their vote. People with special abilities also face difficulties in accessing polling booths, and lack of assistance may hamper their participation.

Strict laws need to be implemented for countering electoral malpractices. Technologies like EVMs and VVPAT help in reducing tampering. The accessibility for the people with special abilities has to be ensured by making sure ramps and assistance is present at the polling stations. Women must be encouraged to participate and engage in a dialogue on elections. The youth of the nation can lead campaigns to raise such awareness. Voter education and awareness, after all, is a prime solution to many problems that exist.


Any democracy thrives when its citizens are proactive, and willing to participate in the functioning of democracy. The gateway for the citizens to contribute in a major way in an indirect or a representative democracy is largely by exercising their right to vote. India is the largest democracy in the entire world, its success then would fall on its citizens, which is only possible when we, citizens of India, go out and vote. Through this blog, I once again, reiterare that it's your duty and your right to vote in the elections. Exercising your right to vote is perhaps one of the most significant ways in which you can contribute to the aspiring nation that we are now and the nation that we wish to become!


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