Electoral System and Election process in India:
Articles 324 to 329 in Part XV of the Constitution deals with the electoral system in India.
The Constitution (Article 324) provides for an independent Election Commission in order to ensure free and fair elections in the 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 held under this Constitution shall be vested in a Commission.
The Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix.
The appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament, be made by the President.
When any other Election Commissioner is so appointed the Chief Election Commissioner shall act as the Chairman of the Election Commission.
The conditions of service and tenure of office of the Election Commissioners and the Regional Commissioners shall be such as the President may by rule determine.
The Chief Election Commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in like manner and on the like grounds as a Judge of the Supreme Court and the conditions of service of the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment.
Any other Election Commissioner or a Regional Commissioner shall not be removed from office except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner.
The President, or the Governor of a State, shall, when so requested by the Election Commission, make available to the Election Commission or to a Regional Commissioner such staff as may be necessary for the discharge of the functions conferred on the Election Commission.
There shall be one general electoral roll for every territorial constituency for election to either House of Parliament or to the House or either House of the Legislature of a State.
No person shall be ineligible for inclusion in any such roll or claim to be included in any special electoral roll for any such constituency on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or any of them.
The elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage; that is to say, every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than eighteen of age on such date as may be fixed in that behalf by or under any law made by the appropriate Legislature.
Parliament may from time to time by law make provision with respect to all matters relating to, or in connection with, elections to either House of Parliament or to the House or either House of the Legislature of a State including the preparation of electoral rolls, the delimitation of constituencies and all other matters necessary for securing the due constitution of such House or Houses.
In exercise of this power, the Parliament has enacted the following laws—
[a] Representation of the People Act of 1950 which provides for the qualifications of voters, preparation of electoral rolls, delimitation of constituencies, allocation of seats in the Parliament and state legislatures etc.
[b] Representation of the People Act of 1951 which provides for the actual conduct of elections and deals with administrative machinery for conducting elections, the poll, election offences, election disputes, by-elections, registration of political parties etc.
[c] Delimitation Commission Act of 1952 which provides for the readjustment of seats, delimitation and reservation of territorial constituencies and other related matters.
[d] Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952.
[e] Government of Union Territories Act, 1963.
[f] Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991.
[g] Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners Act, 1991.
[h] Prohibition of Simultaneous Membership Rules, 1950.
[i] Registration of Electors Rules, 1960.
[j] Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961.
The Legislature of a State may from time to time by law make provision with respect to all matters relating to, or in connection with, the elections to the House or either House of the Legislature of the State including the preparation of electoral rolls and all other matters necessary for securing the due constitution of such House or Houses.
But, they can make provision for only those matters which are not covered by the Parliament.
The validity of any law relating to the delimitation of constituencies or the allotment of seats to such constituencies, made or purporting to be made under article 327 or article 328, shall not be called in question in any court.
No election to either House of Parliament or to the House or either House of the Legislature of a State shall be called in question except by an election petition presented to such authority and in such manner as may be provided for by or under any law made by the appropriate Legislature.
Election Commission of India (ECI)
Under Article 324 of the Constitution of India, the Election Commission of India is vested with the power of superintendence, direction and control of conducting the elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies.
The Election Commission of India is a three-member body, with one Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
The President of India appoints the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners.
Election Commission of India (ECI) conducts elections to Parliament.
Election Commission of India (ECI) conducts elections to the State Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils.
Chief Electoral Officer (CEO)
The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) supervises the election work in a State.
Election Commission of India (ECI) appoints the Chief Electoral Officer.
The Election Commission of India nominates or designates an Officer of the Government of the State/Union Territory as the Chief Electoral Officer in consultation with that State Government/Union Territory Administration.
District Election Officer (DEO)
The Election Commission of India nominates or designates an officer of the state Government as the District Election Officer in consultation with the state government.
The District Election Officer (DEO) supervises the election work in a District.
Returning Officer (RO)
The Returning Officer is responsible for the conduct of elections in any Parliamentary or Assembly constituency.
The Election Commission of India nominates or designates an officer of the Government or a local authority as the Returning Officer for each of the assembly and parliamentary constituencies in consultation with the State Government / Union Territory Administration.
In addition, the Election Commission of India also appoints one or more Assistant Returning Officers for each of the assembly and Parliamentary constituencies to assist the Returning Officer in the performance of his functions in connection with the conduct of elections.
Electoral Registration Officer (ERO)
The Electoral Registration Officer is responsible for the preparation of electoral rolls for a Parliamentary / assembly constituency.
The Election Commission of India, in consultation with the state / UT government, appoints an officer of the government or the local authorities as the Electoral Registration Officer.
The Presiding Officer with the assistance of polling officers conducts the poll at a polling station.
The District Election Officer appoints the Presiding Officers and the Polling Officers.
In the case of Union Territories, such appointments are made by the Returning Officers.
The Election Commission of India nominates officers of Government as Observers for Parliamentary and assembly constituencies.
They perform such functions as are entrusted to them by the Commission.
They report directly to the Commission.
When do elections take place?
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.
Scheduling the Elections
The constitution states that there can be no longer than 6 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 immediately comes 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 at least on three 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 Legislatures, can then convene their respective Houses to hold their sessions.
The entire process takes between 5 to 8 weeks for the national elections, 4 to 5 weeks for separate elections only for Legislative Assemblies.
Who can stand for Election?
Any Indian citizen who is registered as a voter and is over 25 years of age is allowed to contest elections to the Lok Sabha or State Legislative Assemblies.
For the Rajya Sabha the age limit is 30 years.
Every candidate is required to make a security deposit of Rs. 25,000/- (Rupees Twenty five Thousand Only) for Lok Sabha elections. A candidate belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe is required to make a security deposit of Rs. 12,500 (Rupees Twelve Thousand five hundred Only).
For state assembly elections the amount is 10000. For Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes the amount are is Rs.5000.
A defeated candidate will forfeit his deposit and bail rights if he polls less than one-sixth of the total valid votes cast in a first-past-the-post voting system
The deposit is returned if the candidate receives more than one-sixth of the total number of valid votes polled in the constituency.
Nominations must be supported at least by one registered elector of the constituency, in the case of a candidate sponsored by a registered Party and by ten registered electors from the constituency in the case of other candidates.
Returning Officers, appointed by the Election Commission, are put in charge to receive nominations of candidates in each constituency, and oversee the formalities of the election.
In a number of seats in the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha, the candidates can only be from either one of the scheduled castes or scheduled tribes.
The number of these reserved seats is meant to be approximately in proportion to the number of people from scheduled castes or scheduled tribes in each state.
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.
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.
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 & 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.
How the voting takes place
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 2km 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 8 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 instead of ballot boxes.
In 2003, all state elections and bye elections were held using EVMs.
Encouraged by this the Commission took a historic decision to use only EVMs for the Lok Sabha election due in 2004. More than 1 million EVMs were used in this election.
Supervising Elections, Election Observers
The Election Commission appoints a large number of Observers to ensure that the campaign is conducted fairly, and that people are free to vote as they choose.
Election expenditure Observers keeps a check on the amount that each candidate and party spends on the election.
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.
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.