The Indian Constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen of India who is above the age of 18 years. This right is enshrined in Article 326 of the Indian Constitution, which states that elections to the House of the People and Legislative Assembly of every state shall be on the basis of adult suffrage.

There are about 95.24 crore eligible electors in India, as per latest data. In the 2019 general elections, the voter turnout reached a record high of 67.4%. However, despite the high turnout, over 30 crore eligible voters, or one-third of the population, did not participate in the election process.

"There are various reasons why eligible voters do not participate in elections, including lack of understanding of the electoral process, migration for reasons such as employment or marriage, and lack of motivation to vote for candidates with criminal records," said A. K. Verma, Director, Center for the Study of Society and Politics (CSSP), Kanpur.

Some voters, who do not find any candidate suitable, but want to participate in the electoral process, may choose None of The Above [NOTA]. But some voters prefer sitting at home when they do not find any candidate suitable, said Verma. "Additionally…voters treating polling day as a holiday may also contribute to low voter turnout."

National Voters' Day is observed on January 25 every year and the theme for this year is 'Nothing like voting, I vote for sure'. With assembly terms in nine states ending in 2023 and early 2024, FactChecker debunks common misconceptions about voting that impede voter enrollment and participation.

Myth #1: Voter ID card is mandatory to vote

Fact: Electors Photo Identity Card (EPIC), often known as the Voter ID card, is a document issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI) that serves as an identity proof for Indian citizens voting in state and national elections. However, if a voter is unable to present their EPIC, they can provide any of the following identification documents at the polling station:

1. Aadhar Card,

2. MNREGA Job Card,

3. Passbooks with photograph issued by Bank/Post Office,

4. Health Insurance Smart Card issued under the scheme of Ministry of Labour,

5. Driving License,

6. PAN Card,

7. Smart Card issued by Registrar General of India (RGI) under National Population Register (NPR),

8. Indian Passport,

9. Pension document with photograph,

10. Service Identity Cards with photograph issued to employees by Central/State Govt./PSUs/Public Limited Companies, and

11. Official identity cards issued to Members of Parliament/Members of Legislative Assemblies/Members of Legislative Councils.

12. Unique Disability ID (UDID) Card issued by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment

"Some individuals, despite having an EPIC issued by the Election Commission of India, find that their name has been struck off from the voter list at the polling booth, making them unable to cast their vote," said Verma of CSSP. There is no alternative method of voting if such a situation arises on voting day and the voter has to reapply for enrollment in order to vote in the next election, Verma added.

The Voter Information Slip (VIS), which contains important information like polling station, date, time, etc. and is distributed to all registered voters at least five days prior to the voting day, is not considered a valid proof of identity and cannot be used as a stand-alone identification document for voting.

Myth #2: A voter under preventive detention cannot vote

Fact: Sub-section (5) of Section 62 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 grants voting rights to individuals under preventive detention. They can cast their votes through post as per Rule 18 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961.

However, an imprisoned person, or someone who is in the legal custody of the police, cannot vote in any election.

Myth #3: A Non Resident Indian (NRI) settled in a foreign land cannot become an elector in India

Fact: In accordance with the provisions of Section 20A of the Representation of People Act, 1950, which was amended in 2010, an NRI who has not obtained citizenship of another country, is absent from their place of ordinary residence in India due to employment, education, or other reasons, and whose name is not included in the electoral roll, is eligible to get their name registered in the electoral roll of the constituency as per their place of residence in India on their passport.

An NRI has to fill out Form 6A to get registered as an Overseas (NRI) Elector. An NRI voter who is residing abroad is not issued an EPIC as they are permitted to vote in their constituency in person by showing their original passport at the polling station. NRIs who were previously registered as general electors, must surrender their EPIC along with Form 6A. Once they return to India, they can register as a general elector at their place of ordinary residence.

In the general elections of 2019, of the total 99,807 eligible NRI electors, 25,606 or 25.6% NRI electors voted, with 97.7% votes coming from Kerala. In response to a question in the Lok Sabha, the Ministry of External Affairs informed parliament that as of December 25, 2021, there are 1.35 crore NRIs living in foreign countries.

Despite low voter turnout of NRIs in the 2019 general elections, no proposal is under consideration to provide NRI voters with the facility of proxy voting, according to Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju's reply to Lok Sabha on December 16, 2022. The proposal to allow NRI voting via postal ballot is contingent on resolving logistical challenges, which would involve consultations with various government departments and all stakeholders, according to a response given by the Ministry of External Affairs in the Rajya Sabha. Currently, NRIs have to be present at the polling booth to vote.

Myth #4: A person can be registered in the voter list at more than one place

Fact: An individual is not allowed to register as a voter in more than one constituency, according to rules outlined in Sections 17 and 18 of the Representation of People Act, 1950. In the same way, no individual is allowed to be registered in any electoral roll more than once.

When submitting an application for new enrolment, an individual is required to state whether or not his or her name is already listed on the electoral roll of any other constituency. If this statement or declaration is false, and the applicant knows it is false, the applicant is liable for punishment under Section 31 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to a period of one year, or fine, or both.

Myth #5: People who are homeless cannot vote

Fact: A homeless person, who does not have any documentary evidence of residence, can register as an elector. To verify the address of the homeless person, the Booth Level Officer visits the address provided in Form 6 at night to confirm that the homeless person resides there. If the Booth Level Officer is able to confirm that the homeless person actually sleeps at that location, no further documentary proof of place of residence is required. To ensure accuracy during verification, the Booth Level Officer is required to visit the address on more than one night.

Myth #6: Migration based disenfranchisement is not a contributing factor for low voter turnout

Fact: In the 2019 general elections, 30 crore eligible electors failed to cast their ballots. One of the reasons for low voter turnout, according to the Election Commission, is the inability to vote due to internal migration.

According to Census 2011, 37% of Indians, or 45.36 crore, are migrants. The e-SHRAM portal, a national database for registration of unorganised workers, including migrants, has registered around 28 crore unorganised workers. But there is no comprehensive database of internal migrants.

In order to make the voting process more inclusive, the Election Commission has put forward a proposal for remote voting for domestic migrants. The proposed system, called the Multi Constituency Remote Electronic Voting Machine (RVM), would allow domestic migrants to vote in elections for their home constituencies from their current place of residence for reasons such as education, employment, etc. The RVM would be equipped to handle voting for up to 72 different constituencies from a single remote polling booth.

The Election Commission has identified various challenges that need to be addressed before the introduction of RVM. These challenges include legal issues such as determining the definition of "remote" and who qualifies as a "domestic migrant", as well as administrative challenges such as maintaining the secrecy of voting at remote locations and determining the number of polling booths that need to be set up. Additionally, there are technological challenges such as lack of knowledge among voters about the remote voting process and the use of modified voting machines.

"An RVM requires an internet connection, and the instant the internet comes into the picture, the probability of hacking arises. Given the sophistication of technology, ECI must address the issue of hacking before introducing RVM," said Verma of CSSP.

The Election Commission has asked political parties to submit their opinions on the proposal in writing by February 28, 2023.

Myth #7: A service voter cannot appoint a proxy for voting

Fact: A service voter includes members of the Armed forces, members of police force serving outside the state, employees of the Indian government outside India as defined by sub - section (8) of Section 20 of Representation of People Act, 1950.

A service voter has the option of either registering to vote at their native place as a service voter or registering at their current place of posting as a general voter. Service voters who are members of the Armed Forces or forces to which the Army Act, 1950 applies, have the choice of either casting their vote by postal ballot or through a proxy voter they have appointed. Those service voters who choose to vote through a proxy are called Classified Service Voters (CSV).

The proxy's appointment remains in effect until it is revoked by the service voter, and the service voter can revoke or change the proxy at any time.

Myth #8: All electors are eligible for postal ballot voting

Fact: Postal ballot is a system of voting in which individuals can cast their ballots by post if they are unable to physically attend their designated polling station. However this facility of voting is limited to certain groups of voters. This includes

  • Service voters defined in sub - section (8) of Section 20 of Representation of People Act, 1950,

  • Special voter who holds a specific government post under the provisions of sub-section (4) of section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1950. Additionally, the wife of the special voter is also eligible to vote if he and his wife have been registered as electors under sub-section (5).

  • Elector subjected to preventive detention,

  • Voters on election duty like a polling agent, a polling officer, etc.

  • Notified voters, such as people working in the railways, or electricity department or media persons authorised by the ECI for coverage on voting day, under clause (c) of Section 60 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Additionally, senior citizens above the age of 80 years, persons with disability recorded in the electoral roll database and individuals suspected or affected by COVID-19, fall under the category of absentee voters and have the option to cast their vote through postal ballots.