Voter participation is vital to the health of a democracy. Clean and complete electoral rolls are vital to encourage voter participation. Election Commission of India and Chief Electoral Officers of various states and union territories have a great opportunity to adopt pro-participation practices, encourage voter registration, reduce barriers at the ballot box and increase voter turnout. Technology can help in many ways to simplify the task and improve the quality.
Comparing the census data with the age distribution in the electoral rolls show that about up to 80% of eligible voters aged 18 and 19 are not registered to vote in West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh. Participation by young citizens is not encouraging in AP, Karnataka and Delhi as well. Table below shows sample counts and percentages from census data and samples of electoral rolls.
The low rate of electoral participation among young people weakens our democracy and diminishes the responsiveness of government to the concerns of these citizens.
This calls for a special registration drive and include younger people in democratic process.
Majority of countries world-over have 18 as voting age. In India, one should be 18 on 01 January of the year to register as voter. Thus, a person born on 02 January has to wait for a whole year to register.
We can consider pre-registration of voters like in some states of the USA. Citizens can pre-register at the age of 16 (Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.) and at 17 (California and Oregon.) Pre-registration programs are often conducted in schools. In addition, the US National Voter Registration Act of 1993, popularly known as “The Motor Voter Act,” allows people to register as voters when they apply for a driver’s license or learner’s permit. The pre-registered voters would be marked “pending” until automatically added to the electoral rolls when they reach voting age. “… pre-registration eases the burden on election officials. Most importantly, pre-registration programs have been shown to increase the registration rates of young people, who are more likely to become voters for life when engaged with electoral politics early in life.”
‘Voters of Life’ is a very encouraging thought!