Migrant Workers and their Voting Rights

It is extremely concerning that one-third of eligible voters, or 30 crore people, do not vote. Among the many reasons, including urban apathy and geographical constraints, one prominent reason is internal migrants’ inability to vote for a variety of reasons.

What are the election commission’s efforts to address the issue?

  • Domestic Migrant Officers Committee: To address this issue, the Election Commission formed a “Committee of Officers on Domestic Migrants” earlier this year. In its 2016 report, the Committee recommended “remote voting” as a solution.
  • Representative for all parties: To address this serious issue further, the EC invited representatives from all recognised national and state political parties to discuss the necessary legal, administrative, and statutory changes.
  • All parties agree: A technical expert committee was present during the discussion. It is important to remember that the most recent major voting system decision was the implementation of the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in 2010, which was supported by all political parties.

Migrant workers and their voting rights

  • Least-represented group: The Constitution guarantees every citizen freedom of movement and the right to reside in any part of the country. However, migrant workers, particularly circular or short-term migrants, who number in the tens of millions, are among the least represented groups on the ballot.
  • Lack of access to vote: Migrant workers face disenfranchisement due to a lack of access to vote rather than a deliberate denial of the right to vote.
  • Fundamental right: The Supreme Court has conclusively interpreted the right to vote as a fundamental right under Article 19(1). (a).

Issues Concerning Migrant Workers and Voting

  • Large-scale migration: According to the 2011 Census, there are 450 million internal migrants, a 45 percent increase from the 2001 census. Among these, 26 percent of migration (117 million) occurs within the same state, while 12 percent (54 million) occurs across state lines.
  • Alienation due to residency requirements: The root cause of the migrant voters’ problem is that the individual’s inalienable right to vote is constrained by a rather stringent residency requirement. As a result, it disenfranchises the migrant population.
  • 60% of migrants were unable to vote: In the survey report, ‘Political inclusion of Seasonal Migrant Workers in India: Perceptions, Realities and Challenges’ by Aajeevika Bureau, it was found that “close to 60 per cent of respondents had missed voting in elections at least once because they were away from home seeking livelihood options”.

Way Ahead

  • Section 60(c) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 authorises the Election Commission of India, in consultation with the government, to notify “classes” of voters who are unable to vote in person at their constituencies due to physical or social circumstances. Voters who have been notified are eligible for the ETPB system (Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System). The ETPB system was used by 18 lakh defence personnel across the country during the 2019 general elections.
  • Postal ballots for migrants: In 2019, a bill was proposed to extend a similar remote voting option to over 10 million adult NRIs in order to “boost their participation in nation-building.” This was in response to a PIL filed before the Supreme Court. Postal ballots received more than 28 lakh votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
  • Migrants are also equal citizens: under the current system, senior citizens, people with disabilities, and Covid-affected personnel can vote remotely within the constituency via postal ballot. Outside the constituency, postal ballot voting is only available to service voters, people on election duty, and people on preventive detention. The Indian migrant worker, too, deserves to be guaranteed the right to vote through some mechanism.
  • The Election Commission has proposed using remote voting machines for migrant workers, in which a modified version of the existing model of M3 EVMs will be placed at remote polling stations. In fact, the Electronic Corporation of India Ltd. has already created a prototype of a Multi-constituency Remote EVM (RVM), which is a modified version of the existing EVM that can handle 72 constituencies in a single remote polling booth. Only after the crucial demonstration will technical details be available.

@the end

Migrant workers are full citizens of the country. Social, economic, and structural barriers should not be an impediment to their right to vote. The Indian Election Commission has taken a positive step. However, an agreement on migrant voting rights must be reached.

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