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The Scope of Approval Voting in India

  • 18 Jul 2023
  • 11 min read

This editorial is based on Many of the Above which was published in The Indian Express on 18/07/2023. It talks about the approval voting system and challenges associated with the approval voting.

For Prelims: United Nations, NOTA, Parliament, First-Past-the-Post

For Mains: Benefits and Challenges of the Approval Voting

India is a diverse and multi-party democracy, with more than 600 parties contesting the general elections and nearly three dozen parties having at least one member in Parliament.

The first-past-the-post (FPTP) method is incongruous with India’s unique political diversity, as it rewards the splitting of votes among numerous parties and creates incentives for opportunistic and unnatural alliances among parties.

Approval voting, on the other hand, can reduce voter fragmentation and encourage ideological politics, as it allows voters to express their support for multiple parties without fear of wasting their vote or helping their least preferred option. It can also prevent post-election defections and horse-trading (political vote trading), as it reduces the need for pre-poll alliances and seat-sharing arrangements among parties.

What is the First Past the Post System?

  • About:
    • An electoral system in which voters cast a vote for a single candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins the election.
      • Also known as the simple majority system or plurality system.
    • One of the simplest and oldest electoral systems, used in countries such as the UK, the US, Canada, and India.
  • Features of the First Past the Post System:
    • Voters are presented with a list of candidates nominated by different political parties or running as independents.
    • Voters choose one candidate by marking their ballot paper or electronic voting machine.
    • The candidate who receives the most votes in a constituency is declared the winner.
    • The winner does not need to get a majority (more than 50%) of the votes, but only a plurality (the largest number) of the votes.
  • Alternative Electoral Systems:
    • Proportional Representation (PR) Systems:
      • These are systems that allocate seats to political parties or candidates according to their share of the popular vote.
    • Ranked Voting Systems:
      • These are systems that allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference, rather than choosing one candidate.
    • Score Voting Systems:
      • These are systems that allow voters to score candidates on a numerical scale, rather than choosing one candidate or ranking them.

What is Approval Voting?

  • Approval voting is a voting method that allows voters to choose as many candidates or parties as they want from a list of options.
    • The winner is the candidate or party that receives the most approvals or tick marks from the voters.
  • Approval voting is different from the FPTP method, which forces voters to choose only one option and gives the victory to the option with the most votes, even if it does not have a majority.
  • Approval voting is also different from ranked-choice voting, which requires voters to rank their preferences of candidates or parties and eliminates the least preferred options until one option has a majority.
  • Approval voting is a well-researched voting methodology that is used in elections with multiple credible choices, such as in the United Nations, internal party primaries in the US, and sometimes in the election of the Pope.

How does MOTA Offers a Way to Implement Approval Voting?

  • Approval voting can be implemented in India by adding a new option on the ballot paper called MOTA (Many Of The Above), which is the mirror image of NOTA (None of the Above) that we already have on every ballot.
  • MOTA would allow voters to choose as many candidates or parties as they want from a list of options, instead of forcing them to choose only one.
  • MOTA would not require any major changes in the existing electoral system or machinery, as it would only involve adding a new option on the ballot paper and counting the number of approvals for each option.
  • MOTA would also not violate any constitutional or legal provisions, as it would not affect the right to vote or the representation of people in Parliament.

What are the Benefits of Approval Voting for India?

  • Increase in Voter Turnout:
    • It can increase voter turnout and participation, as voters would have more choices and freedom to express their preferences.
  • Reduce Polarization:
    • It can reduce polarization and extremism, as voters would be encouraged to consider more moderate and inclusive options rather than choosing between extremes.
  • Wider Representation:
    • It can enhance representation and accountability, as candidates and parties would have to appeal to a broader and more diverse electorate rather than catering to narrow interests or loyal bases.
  • Ensure Stability:
    • It can foster stability and governance, as it would reduce the dependence on coalitions and alliances that are often unstable and prone to corruption or blackmail.

What are the Challenges of Approval Voting for India?

  • Lack of Familiarity and Understanding:
    • Approval voting is a relatively new concept in Indian politics, and many voters may be unfamiliar with the methodology.
    • Building awareness and educating voters about how approval voting works and its advantages would be essential to gain acceptance and ensure effective implementation.
  • Resistance from Established Parties:
    • Approval voting may face resistance from established political parties, particularly those who benefit from the existing FPTP system or have a stronghold in certain regions.
    • Parties may be reluctant to embrace a system that could challenge their dominance or disrupt existing electoral dynamics.
  • Potential for Fragmented Results:
    • While approval voting aims to reduce fragmentation, there is a possibility that the outcome may still lead to fragmented results, particularly if a significant number of candidates receive high approval ratings.
      • This may result in the need for post-election coalition-building or further rounds of voting to determine a clear winner.
  • Constitutional and Legal Considerations:
    • Implementing approval voting may require constitutional or legal amendments to existing election laws.
    • Overcoming legal hurdles and ensuring compliance with constitutional provisions may pose challenges that need to be carefully addressed.

What Steps can be Taken for Introduction and Effective Implementation Approval Voting?

  • Promote Awareness and Education:
    • Conduct public awareness campaigns to educate voters about the concept and benefits of approval voting.
    • Collaboration among civil society organizations, educational institutions, and media outlets to disseminate information on the advantages of approval voting in reducing voter fragmentation.
  • Pilot Programs and Case Studies:
    • Implement pilot programs in select constituencies or regions to test the feasibility and effectiveness of approval voting in the Indian context.
    • Conduct case studies and gather empirical data on the outcomes of approval voting, highlighting its potential to minimize vote splitting and encourage voter participation.
  • Engage with Political Parties:
    • Encourage political parties to open dialogues and discussions on the adoption of approval voting as an alternative electoral method.
    • Highlight the advantages of approval voting in fostering ideological politics and reducing the reliance on opportunistic alliances.
  • International Collaboration and Expert Consultation:
    • Seek collaboration with international organizations and electoral experts who have experience with approval voting or similar alternative voting methods.
    • Organize consultations and workshops with experts to gather insights, learn from best practices, and adapt approval voting methodologies to suit the unique characteristics of Indian elections.
  • Public Discourse and Debates:
    • Encourage public debates and discussions on the need for electoral reforms and the potential benefits of approval voting.
    • Facilitate platforms for experts, academics, politicians, and citizens to express their views and opinions on the subject, fostering a wider understanding and acceptance of approval voting.

Drishti Mains Question:

Evaluate the merits and demerits of approval voting in the context of India’s political diversity and democracy.

UPSC Civil Services Examination Previous Year’s Question (PYQs)


Q. Consider the following statements: (2017)

  1. The Election Commission of India is a five-member body.
  2. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs decides the election schedule for the conduct of both general elections and bye-elections.
  3. Election Commission resolves the disputes relating to splits/mergers of recognised political parties.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 and 2 only 
(b) 2 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 3 only

Ans: (d)


Q. Discuss the role of the Election Commission of India in the light of the evolution of the Model Code of Conduct. (2022)

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