Restrictions Imposed on Exit Polls According to a 2009 provision, conducting exit polls and publishing results of exist polls would be prohibited during the election to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. Thus, no person shall conduct any exit poll and publish or publicise by means of the print or electronic media or disseminate in any other manner, the result of any exit poll during the period notified by the Election Commission in this regard.
Further, any person who contravenes this provision shall be punishable with imprisonment of upto two years or with fine or with both.
“Exit-poll” is an opinion survey regarding how electors have voted at an election or how all the electors have performed with regard to the identification of a political party or candidate in an election.
Time-Limit for Submitting a Case for Disqualification In 2009, a provision was made for the simplification of the procedure for disqualification of a person found guilty of corrupt practices. It provided for a three-month time-limit within which the specified authority will have to submit the case of a person found guilty of corrupt practice to the President for determination of the question of disqualification.
All Officials Included in Corrupt Practice In 2009, a provision was made for the inclusion of all officials, whether in the government service or not, appointed or deputed by the Election Commission in connection with the conduct of elections, within the scope of corrupt practice of obtaining any assistance by a candidate for the furtherance of the prospects of his election.
Increase in Security Deposit In 2009, the amount of security deposit to be paid by the candidates contesting elections to the Lok Sabha was increased from ^10,000 to ^25,000 for the general candidates and from ^5,000 to ? 12,500 for SC and ST candidates. Similarly, the security deposit in the case of elections to the state legislative assembly was increased from ^5,000 to x 10,000 for the general candidates and from ^2,500 to ^5,000 for the SC and ST candidates. This was done in order to check the multiplicity of nonserious candidates.
Appellate Authority within the District In 2009, a provision was made for appointment of an appellate authority within the district against the orders of the Electoral Registration Officers, instead of the Chief Electoral Officer of the state. Thus, an appeal against any order of the Electoral Registration Officer of a constituency (during continuous updation of the electoral roll) will now lie before the District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate or Executive Magistrate or District Collector or an officer of equivalent rank. A further appeal against any order of the District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate will now lie before the Chief Electoral Officer of the state.
Voting Rights to Citizens of India Living Abroad In 201026, a provision was made to confer voting rights to the citizens of India residing outside India due to various reasons. Accordingly, every citizen of India - (a) whose name is not included in the electoral roll (b) who has not acquired the citizenship of any other country (c) who is absent from his place of ordinary residence in India owing to his employment, education or otherwise outside India (whether temporarily or not) - shall be entitled to have his name registered in the electoral roll in the Parliamentary / Assembly constituency in which his place of residence in India as mentioned in his passport is located.
Online Enrolment in the Electoral Roll In 2013, a provision was made for online filing of applications for enrolment in the electoral roll. For this purpose, the General Government, after consulting the Election Commission, made the rules known as the Registration of the Electors (Amendment) Rules, 20 1 3 These rules made certain amendments in the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960.
Introduction of NOTA Option According to the directions of Supreme Court, the Election Commission made provision in the ballot papers / EVMs for None of the Above (NOTA) option so that the voters who come to the polling booth and decide not to vote for any of the candidates in the fray, are able to exercise their right not to vote for such candidates while maintaining the secrecy of their ballot. The provision for NOTA has been made since General Election to State Legislative Assemblies of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, NCT of Delhi and Rajasthan in 2013 and continued in the General Election to State Legislative Assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim in 2014 along with the General Elections to the Sixteenth Lok Sabha (2014)
The voters polled against the NOTA option are not taken into account for calculating the total valid voters polled by the contesting candidates for the purpose of return of security deposits to candidates. Even if the number of electors opting for NOTA options is more than the number of votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes has to be declared elected.
In 2001, the ECI had sent a proposal to the Government to amend the law so as to provide for a neutral vote provision for the electors who did not wish to vote for any of the candidates. In 2004, PUCL (People’s Union for Civil Liberties) filed a petition seeking a direction to provide the necessary provision in ballot papers and EVMs for protection of the right to not vote for any candidate, secretly. The Supreme Court in 2013 held that the ECI may provide for the None of the Above (NOTA) option on EVMs and ballot papers.
Introduction of VVPAT The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail is an independent system attached with the EVMs that allows the voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended. When a vote is cast, a slip is printed and remains exposed through a transparent window for seven seconds, showing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate. Thereafter, the receipt automatically gets cut and falls into the sealed dropbox of the VVPAT. The system allows a voter to challenge his/her vote on the basis of the paper receipt. As per rules, the Presiding Officer of the polling booth will have to record the dissent of the voter, which would have to be taken into account at the time of counting, if the challenge is found to be false.
The law for using VVPATs was amended in 2013. In 2013, the Supreme Court of India had permitted the ECI to introduce VVPAT in a phased manner, calling it ‘an indispensable requirement of free and fair elections’. The Court had felt that introducing VVPAT would ensure the accuracy of the voting system and also help in manual counting of votes in case of dispute. VVPATs were first used in bye-election to the Noksen Assembly Constituency of Nagaland held in 2013. Thereafter, VVPATs have been used in selected constituencies during every General Election to State Legislative Assemblies. VVPATs were used in eight selected Parliamentary Constituencies in the country in the 2014 Lok Sabha Election. EVMs with VVPAT ensure the accuracy and transparency of the voting system.
Persons in Jail or Police Custody Can Contest Elections In 2013, the Supreme Court upheld an order of the Patna High Court declaring that a person who has no right to vote by reason of being in jail or in police custody, is not an elector and is, therefore, not qualified to contest the elections to the Parliament or the State Legislature. In order to negate this order of the Supreme Court, the following two new provisions have been included in the Representation of the People Act, 1951:
(i) The first provision expressly provides that by reason of the prohibition to vote (either due to in jail or in police custody), a person whose name has been entered in the electoral roll shall not cease to be an elector.
(ii) The second provision expressly provides that a Member of Parliament or the State Legislature shall be disqualified only if he is so disqualified under the provisions contained in the Act and on no other ground.
Consequently, the persons in jail or in police custody are allowed to contest the elections.
Immediate Disqualification of Convicted MPs and MLAs In 2013, 35 the Supreme Court held that chargesheeted Members of Parliament and MLAs, on conviction for offences, will be immediately disqualified from holding membership of the House without being given three months’ time for appeal, as was the case before.
The concerned Bench of the Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act (1951) that allows convicted lawmakers a three-month period for filing appeal to the higher court and to get a stay of the conviction and sentence. The Bench, however, made it clear that the ruling will be prospective and those who had already filed appeals in various High Courts or the Supreme Court against their convictions would be exempt from it.
The Bench said: “A reading of the two provisions in Articles 102 and 191 of the Constitution would make it abundantly clear that Parliament is to make one law for a person to be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a Member of either House of Parliament or Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council of the State. Parliament thus does not have the power under Articles 102 and 191 of the Constitution to make different laws for a person to be disqualified for being chosen as a member and for a person to be disqualified for continuing as a Member of Parliament or the State Legislature.”
The Bench said: “Section 8 (4) of the Act which carves out a saving in the case of sitting members of Parliament or State Legislature from the disqualifications under the Act or which defers the date on which the disqualification will take effect in the case of a sitting member of Parliament or a State Legislature is beyond the powers conferred on Parliament by the Constitution.”
The Bench held: “Looking at the affirmative terms of Articles 102 and 191 of the Constitution, we hold that Parliament has been vested with the powers to make law laying down the same disqualifications for person to be chosen as a member of Parliament or a State Legislature and for a sitting member of a House of Parliament or a House of a State Legislature. We also hold that the provisions of Article 101 and 190 of the Constitution expressly prohibit Parliament to defer the date from which the disqualification will come into effect in case of a sitting member of Parliament or a State Legislature. Parliament, therefore, has exceeded its powers conferred by the Constitution in enacting sub-section (4) of Section 8 of the Act and accordingly subsection (4) of Section 8 of the Act is ultra vires the Constitution.”
In order to nullify the above ruling of the Supreme Court, the Representation of the People (Second Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2013 was introduced in the Parliament. However, the Bill was later withdrawn by the Government.
Ceiling on Election Expenditure Increased In 20 1 4, the Central Government raised the maximum ceiling on election expenditure by candidates for a Lok Sabha seat in bigger states to T70 lakhs (from earlier T40 lakhs). In other states and union territories, it is T54 lakhs (from earlier T16-40 lakhs).
Similarly, the limit for an Assembly seat in the bigger states was increased to T28 lakhs (from earlier x\6 lakhs). In other states and union territories, it is 20 lakhs (from earlier T8-16 lakhs).
Photos of Candidates on EVMs and Ballot Papers According to an Election Commission order, in any election being held after May 1, 2015, the ballot papers and EVMs will carry the picture of the candidate with his or her name and party symbol to avoid confusion among the electorates in constituencies where namesakes are contesting.
The June 2015 bypolls to six seats in five states were the first elections where photographs of candidates were used on ballot papers.
The Commission has noted that there are many cases where candidates with same or similar names contest from the same constituency. Although appropriate suffixes are added to the names of candidates in the event of two or more candidates having same name, the Commission considers that additional measures are required for removing confusion in the minds of electors at the time of voting.
The photograph will appear between the name of the candidate and his or her election symbol.
The Commission explained that if a candidate fails to provide the photograph, it “shall not be a ground for the rejection of the nomination of the candidate”.
The candidates will now be required to submit their recent photograph, either black and white or coloured, to the election authorities at the time of filing nomination. No uniforms would be allowed and caps and dark glasses have to be avoided.