To Vote or Not to Vote – MIT and Elections
Faced by the daunting end semester examinations and the anticipation of the upcoming vacations, the months of April and May pass by in fleeting seconds for most of the students in MIT. As we deal with the struggles of college life, the rest of the nation fields an important question, one that will shape the course of the nation for the next five years. Between April and May of 2019, an estimated 900 million citizens will decide who forms the ruling party of India for the next political term. Amongst the eligible voters will be the majority of the eight thousand-odd students of MIT, in a bubble relatively removed from the politics that captivates the country.
Less than one-third of the respondents to a survey conducted within the college say that they have voted in an election. The two-thirds of people who have not voted cited a lack of interest as well as a lack of opportunity as the main reason for not doing so. A few students expressed absolutely no interest in the upcoming elections or politics in general. “I am personally not very interested in politics and I am not aware of the current political situation in the nation. Most of what I hear is simply gossip and since I’m not a very avid reader I don’t have the required facts,” said Samidha Singh, a second-year student.
The youth of a nation holds the power to instil change at a large scale. While educating the electorate to enable them to make the right decision is an issue of utmost importance, there is a more fundamental problem that exists. A large fraction of the current electorate believes that their vote does not matter. They are of the opinion that in a country with a population of over 1.3 billion people, one vote will not have the power to influence the outcome of the election. “There should be activities and debates where such discussions happen so that people realise how important it is to take part in the election process of the country. That is how we can increase interest in politics amongst the students of MIT”, said Rajat Maheshwari, a third-year from MIT, when asked on how he thinks the outlook of the students can change when it comes to taking an active part.
However, the most common reason for not voting was that people did not have a voters ID since they were unaware of the procedures to apply for it or had problems while registering for it. The survey has shown that over three-quarters of students who haven’t voted yet, would do so if the entire process was made more convenient, which further emphasizes the need for a better organisation and dissemination of information regarding the procedures. While there is a common opinion among most of the respondents that the registration process is difficult and time-consuming, the reality provides a striking contrast. The time-consuming visits to the electoral office have now been replaced by a simple procedure of filling a form online and uploading an address and age proof in jpeg format.
Those among the respondents that already had their voter ID and were interested in voting, however, had an even more considerable issue to tackle—they were not present in their home state during election season. According to a report, approximately 281 million votes were lost in the 2014 general elections due to this very reason. As a reference, the world’s second largest democracy, the United States of America, had only 183 million voters registered during their 2016 presidential elections. Since a majority of the students in MIT belong to states outside Karnataka, most of them face this problem, resulting in the further dwindling of active voters in MIT. As most of these people end up working outside their hometown even after college, this situation persists for longer than just four years.
Owing to this particular issue of Lost Votes, The Times of India has started a campaign to petition the Electoral Commission to grant citizens the right to vote regardless of where they are currently residing. NRIs and armed personnel currently have the right to proxy voting, that is, they do not have to be physically present in the voting booth in order to cast their vote. Domestic migrants, unfortunately, do not share similar rights. Proxy voting allows a migrant respondent to enable a representative to vote in his/her absence.
The Lost Votes campaign proposes alternatives that allow a migrant respondent to give his voting rights to a representative or an option that allows him to be added to the provisional electorate roll of his current place of residence. Another proposed alternative is the mailing in of voting preference via post. Prominent politicians like Manish Tewari and Jay Panda have spoken in favour of this entire movement, believing that technology such as biometric verification and One-time Password can prove to be useful in this endeavour. While the solutions presented by the campaign might come with its own set of challenges, the scale of the problem does call for serious attention.
As the Lost Votes campaign slowly gains momentum in its goal to allow eligible and registered voters their right to choose their leaders, regardless of their place of residence, it comes down to the youth to ensure that there is an active interest in these proceedings. In a student town like Manipal, there is admittedly little direct influence of national politics. Regardless, the educated youth have immense power and a duty to wield it responsibly. The true power of democracy isn’t hidden in the pages of the constitution—it is present in the public’s actions towards the betterment of the nation.
The MIT Post urges its audience to wisely exercise their right to vote. Become a registered voter at the NSVP website today.
Featured Image Credits – Aditya Sriram