Time of Elections Elections for the Lok Sabha and every state Legislative Assembly have to take place every five years, unless called earlier. The President can dissolve Lok Sabha and call a General Election before five years is up, if the Government can no longer command the confidence of the Lok Sabha, and if there is no alternative government available to take over.
Schedule of Elections When the five-year limit is up, or the legislature has been dissolved and new elections have been called, the Election Commission puts into effect the machinery for holding an election. The Constitution states that there can be no longer than six months between the last session of the dissolved Lok Sabha and the recalling of the new House, so elections have to be concluded before then.
The Commission normally announces the schedule of elections in a major press conference a few weeks before the formal process is set in motion. The Model Code of Conduct for guidance of candidates and political parties comes immediately into effect after such announcement.
The formal process for the elections starts with the Notification or Notifications calling upon the electorate to elect Members of a House. As soon as Notifications are issued, candidates can start filing their nominations in the constituencies from where they wish to contest. These are scrutinised by the Returning Officer of the constituency concerned after the last date for the same is over after about a week. The validly nominated candidates can withdraw from the contest within two days from the date of scrutiny.Contesting candidates get at least two weeks for political campaign before the actual date of poll.
On account of the vast magnitude of operations and the massive size of the electorate, polling is held on a number of days for the national elections. A separate date for counting is fixed and the results declared for each constituency by the concerned Returning Officer.
The Commission compiles the complete list of members elected and issues an appropriate Notification for the due constitution of the House. With this, the process of elections is complete and the President, in case of the Lok Sabha, and the Governors of the concerned states, in case of State Assemblies, can then convene their respective Houses to hold their sessions.
Oath or Affirmation It is necessary for a candidate to make and subscribe an oath or affirmation before an officer authorised by the Election Commission. For any particular election, the authorised persons are, principally, the Returning Officer and the Assistant Returning Officer for the constituency. In the case of a candidate confined in a prison or under preventive detention, the superintendent of the prison or commandant of the detention camp in which he is so confined or is under such detention is authorised to administer the oath. And in the case of a candidate confined to bed in a hospital or elsewhere owing to illness or any other cause, the medical superintendent in charge of the hospital or the medical practitioner attending on him is similarly authorised. If a candidate is outside India, the Indian Ambassador or High Commissioner or diplomatic consular authorised by him can also administer oath/affirmation. The candidate, in person, is required to make the oath or affirmation immediately after presenting his nomination papers and in any case not later than the day previous to the date of the scrutiny.
Election Campaign The campaign is the period when the political parties put forward their candidates and arguments with which they hope to persuade people to vote for their candidates and parties. Candidates are given a week to put forward their nominations. These are scrutinised by the Returning Officers and if not found to be in order can be rejected after a summary hearing. Validly nominated candidates can withdraw within two days after nominations have been scrutinised. The official campaign lasts at least two weeks from the drawing up of the list of nominated candidates, and officially ends 48 hours before polling closes.
During the election campaign, the political parties and contesting candidates are expected to abide by a Model Code of Conduct evolved by the Election Commission on the basis of a consensus among political parties. The model code lays down broad guidelines as to how the political parties and candidates should conduct themselves during the election campaign. It is intended to maintain the election campaign on healthy lines, avoid clashes and conflicts between political parties or their supporters and to ensure peace and order during the campaign period and thereafter, until the results are declared. The model code also prescribes guidelines for the ruling party either at the Centre or in the state to ensure that a level field is maintained and that no cause is given for any complaint that the ruling party has used its official position for the purposes of its election campaign.
Once an election has been called, parties issue manifestos detailing the programmes they wish to implement if elected to government, the strengths of their leaders, and the failures of opposing parties and their leaders. Slogans are used to popularise and identify parties and issues, and pamphlets and posters distributed to the electorate. Rallies and meetings where the candidates try to persuade, cajole and enthuse supporters, and denigrate opponents, are held throughout the constituencies. Personal appeals and promises of reform are made, with candidates travelling the length and breadth of the constituency to try to influence as many potential supporters as possible.
Polling Days Polling is normally held on a number of different days in different constituencies, to enable the security forces and those monitoring the election to keep law and order and ensure that voting during the election is fair.
Ballot Papers and Symbols After nomination of candidates is complete, a list of competing candidates is prepared by the Returning Officer, and ballot papers are printed. Ballot papers are printed with the names of the candidates (in languages set by the Election Commission) and the symbols allotted to each of the candidates. Candidates of recognised parties are allotted their party symbols.
Voting Procedure Voting is by secret ballot. Polling stations are usually set up in public institutions, such as schools and community halls. To enable as many electors as possible to vote, the officials of the Election Commission try to ensure that there is a polling station within two kilometres of every voter, and that no polling stations should have to deal with more than 1500 voters. Each polling station is open for at least eight hours on the day of the election.
On entering the polling station, the elector is checked against the electoral roll, and allocated a ballot paper. The elector votes by marking the ballot paper with a rubber stamp on or near the symbol of the candidate of his choice, inside a screened compartment in the polling station. The voter then folds the ballot paper and inserts it in a common ballot box which is kept in full view of the Presiding Officer and polling agents of the candidates. This marking system eliminates the possibility of ballot papers being surreptitiously taken out of the polling station or not being put in the ballot box.
Since 1998, the Commission has increasingly used Electronic Voting Machines (EMVs) instead of ballot boxes. In 2003, all state elections and by elections were held using EVMs. Encouraged by this, the Commission took a historic decision to use only EVMs for the Lok Sabha election in 2004. More than 1 million EVMs were used in this election.
Electronic Voting Machine An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is a simple electronic device used to record votes in place of ballot papers and boxes which were used earlier in conventional voting system. The advantages of the EVM over the traditional ballot paper / ballot box system are given here:
Counting of Votes After the polling has finished, the votes are counted under the supervision of Returning Officers and Observers appointed by the Election Commission. After the counting of votes is over, the Returning Officer declares the name of the candidate, to whom the largest number of votes have been given, as the winner and as having been returned by the constituency to the concerned House.
Elections to the Lok Sabha are carried out using a first-past-the-post electoral system. The country is split up into separate geographical areas, known as constituencies, and the electors can cast one vote each for a candidate, the winner being the candidate who gets the maximum votes.
Elections to the State Assemblies are carried out in the same manner as for the Lok Sabha election, with the states and union territories divided into single-member constituencies, and the first-past-the-post electoral system used.
Media Coverage In order to bring as much transparency as possible to the electoral process, the media are encouraged and provided with facilities to cover the election, although subject to maintaining the secrecy of the vote. Media persons are given special passes to enter polling stations to cover the poll process and the counting halls during the actual counting of votes.
Election Petitions Any elector or candidate can file an election petition if he or she thinks there has been malpractice during the election. An election petition is not an ordinary civil suit, but treated as a contest in which the whole constituency is involved. Election petitions are tried by the High Court of the state involved, and if upheld can even lead to the restaging of the election in that constituency.