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What is voting? Why is it important to vote? What are the takeaways of voting? What are the consequences of not voting? Voting, a word defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as an expression of opinion/preference.” Elections are cooperative ventures and the rationality of participating in them depends on more than an individual-level cost-benefit analysis of the effort involved in each pull of a voting-machine lever or crossing of a ballot paper. Elections were used as early in history as ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and throughout the Medieval period to select rulers such as the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope. The first recorded popular elections of officials to public office by majority vote where all citizens were eligible both to vote and to hold public office, date back to the Ephors of Sparta in 754 B.C., under the mixed government of the Spartan Constitution. An individual’s true interest in voting is inextricably intertwined with the interests of the polity as a whole. While voting is a right and privilege of citizenship, it is also a responsibility. We need to encourage those eligible to vote and make them understand the urgency of this civic responsibility. Voting brings change and right now, progress is highly desirable in our nation. We complain of not having proper roads, no regular supply of water/electricity, no development, growing corruption, etc. Instead, if we elect a good candidate who will work for the people, that is the true power of the common man. A good leader will make sure that the next five years will be safe, progressive and pro-development. We should not vote for a person based on just their caste/religion. We should not accept any gifts/monetary benefits from any candidate in exchange for our vote. We should check the manifestos of candidates standing for elections in our constituency and then decide.

But it is always seen that the voters are reluctant to vote during elections. Many voters don’t carry out this responsibility properly, thereby not understanding the gravity of the power given to them by the constitution. This is particularly true in the case of the urban population where election day is considered just another holiday. Since voting is not compulsory, people choose to relax at home instead of participating in the election. One of the highest voter turnouts was seen in the 2019 Indian General Elections, when around 67.1% of the people took part in the elections. This is quite far away from the perfect 100% which is important for any democracy. This reluctance comes from the mindset that a single vote wouldn’t make much of a difference which is not very true.

Elections serve to legitimize the acts of those who wield power. They reinforce the stability and legitimacy of political communities and thus, help facilitate social and political integration. They serve a self-actualizing purpose by confirming the worth and dignity of individual citizens as human beings.

No early voting, failure to timely process voter registrations, polling venue consolidations/relocations, poorly trained staffing, inadequate number of functioning ballots, voter purging and caging, disparate racial treatment, student voting restrictions, excessive use of inactive voter lists,, no disability accessible equipment, long queues, failure to assist voters displaced by natural disasters are some forms of voter suppressions. Voter apathy or lack of interest in voting is described as a scenario of low turnout among eligible voters in jurisdictions where voting is optional which is mainly caused by voter fatigue and political alienation.

Divyangs for people in far-off and remote places, model polling booths facilitating women, children and senior citizens, Systematic Voter’s Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) to fill the gaps where people fail to participate, flexibility in the Indian Election System- transparency in EVMs (VVPAT machines), NOTA (none of the above) where voters are allowed to exercise their vote even if they are not happy with any of the candidates, providing facilities to inter-migrants to cast their votes, opposing the usage of unethical practices, keeping a check on expenses involved in the election process and curbing proxy voting were some steps taken by the government of India to reduce voter apathy. For decriminalisation of Indian Elections, the Election Commission of India and the Supreme Court ensured that the candidates declare their criminal record and any cases, pending or not, in order to encourage young voters to take part in the political process. The GoI decided to celebrate January 25th every year as "National Voters' Day". A voter's ID card is a mandatory document for the identification of a citizen of India, issued by the ECI, allowing its holders to cast their vote. It includes their name, photograph, father’s name, unique serial number, a hologram that has a national symbol, gender, residential address, date of birth and signature of the electoral registration officer.

The Constitution established India as a democratic republic. It is democratic because the people govern themselves, and it is a republic because the government’s power is derived from it's people. Citizens play a decisive role in strengthening democracy by choosing the right leaders to form and run the government, actively participating in the governance of the country by keeping themselves aware of the current issues. People pressurize political parties through petitions, publicity and agitations. Our Parliament and Legislatures are of the people, by the people and for the people. Exercising the right to vote upholds what our freedom fighters envisioned for India. The feeling after having cast a vote infuses a sense of pride for being a responsible citizen, as can be witnessed from the sharing of the inked finger on social media. A sense of empowerment is instilled in us, making the government more accountable and deciding the direction of change and development of the nation. In the same way one interviews for a job position, so does one earn a vote.

George Jean Nathan once said, "Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote."
 The best way to reform the voting system is to reform the vote itself. Young people’s skills and capacities to participate actively in democratic practices, young women’s presence in political office and the ability of young people to contribute to the achievement of durable solutions for humanitarian and peace building initiatives need to be tapped comprehensively. Voting is a perfect opportunity to have everyone’s voices be heard. Even if our country is highly populated, every vote counts. Right now, we are in the midst of public health and social justice crises and we can’t have abstention be the huge brick wall that blocks us from achieving any forms of change. A fundamental shift in the people’s thought process is essential for making them realize their moral responsibility towards their country.

The sudden spread of the Covid-19 pandemic all across the world disrupted every aspect of public life. Elections require intense public interaction and mass communication, the apprehension was that the precautionary norms like social distancing and avoidance of crowded gatherings would essentially impede the hassle-free conduct of elections. Uncertainties like the prolonged postponement of elections would lead to legitimacy and credibility deficits poured in. The challenges of conducting elections in a democracy like India which has the largest number of electorates in the world were manifold. Under pandemic conditions, observing the polling day was problematic, but practical. Listening to the siren’s song of authoritarian solutions was the wrong prescription. Special voting arrangements like early voting, mobile voting, postal voting and online voting upheld the integrity, transparency and legitimacy of the elections. A foremost example is the Telangana state government which published the Blockchain Policy Report in May 2019 which advocated the use of biometric facial recognition technologies (FRT) for voter identity authentication.

The Ministry of Public Welfare enforced certain Guidelines to be followed during the election process which stated:

Every person was to wear a face mask during any election-related activity. At the entry of election premises, thermal scanning was carried out, sanitizer, soap and water was made available, social distancing was maintained as per the extant COVID-19 guidelines and security personnel ensured the compliance of these SOPs. During the voter identification process, voters lowered their masks when requested and put it back on immediately. Only one voter was allowed to stand in front of each polling official. Hand gloves were provided to officials handling EVMs/VVPATs and to voters for signing on the voter register and pressing the EVM button for voting. 

Getting used to this new normal, our country has seen a surprising upsurge in the women's turnout in the state elections of Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Goa and Uttarakhand last week. The proportion of women voters who turned out to vote (70.42%) was higher than that of the men (68.78%). Studies by various organisations have shown that men and women vote quite differently, with women more likely to vote for change and prefer a welfare-oriented party, prioritising access to basic provisions like healthcare, water and sanitation, while men lean towards infrastructural investment.

It’s the failure or absence of elections that largely defines dictatorships. Elections ensure governmental responsiveness by translating citizens preferences into policy. Free, fair and periodic elections are the foundation of every healthy democracy, ensuring that government authority derives from the will of the people.

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