Compulsory voting at elections to local bodies in Gujarat
Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Act, 2009 received the Governor’s assent. The Act introduces an ‘obligation to vote’ at the municipal corporation, municipality and Panchayat levels in the state of Gujarat.
Following the amendments, it shall now be the duty of a qualified voter to cast his vote at elections to each of these bodies. This includes the right to exercise the NOTA option. The Act empowers an election officer to serve a voter notice on the grounds that he appears to have failed to vote at the election. The voter is then required to provide sufficient reasons within a period of one month, failing which he is declared as a “defaulter voter” by an order. The defaulter voter has the option of challenging this order before a designated appellate officer, whose decision will be final.
The Act carves out exemptions for certain individuals from voting if
- He/ She is rendered physically incapable due to illness etc.;
- He/ She is not present in the state of Gujarat on the date of election; or
- For any other reasons to be laid down in the Rules.
The previous Governor had withheld her assent on the Bill for several reasons. The Governor had stated that compulsory voting violated Article 21 of the Constitution and the principles of individual liberty that permits an individual not to vote. She had also pointed out that the Bill was silent on the government’s duty to create an enabling environment for the voter to cast his vote. This included updating of electoral rolls, timely distribution of voter ID cards to all individuals and ensuring easy access to polling stations.