Make voting compulsory | Sunday Observer

Make voting compulsory

As usual the need to have one’s name registered in the current polls register and possession of a valid Identity Card would be made compulsory for voting at the forthcoming Elections.

Ostensibly, these two requirements are imposed to prevent impersonation; voting by a non-citizen or the same person voting for a second time or more.

If that is the case, the simplest alternative is the ‘finger painting method’. It is only a matter of improving the quality of the so called indelible ink so that the mark cannot be removed at least within the next nine hours of application. Then it totally prevents any Sri Lankan adult exercising the vote more than once during the polling time.

The moot question is why should a genuine citizen over 18 years, who cannot meet the registration and identity requirements, be prevented from voting when the stubborn fact is, that Sri Lanka has witnessed an average polling percentage of less than 80% over the years?

From the inception of voting in Sri Lanka, it is seen that the unpolled number of votes can reverse the final outcome in an Election.

For example, in the Presidential Election in 2015 it was found that the majority obtained by the winner was 449,072 while the number of registered voters who did not cast their votes remained at an astounding 2,780,113! It is a fact that the unpolled number includes those employed abroad, other non-residents, patients, the disabled and those not holding valid IDs.

The irony however is, a substantial number of ‘otherwise- eligible’ voters were prevented from voting due to non-registration in the 2014 polls register.

Shouldn’t this scenario spur the election officials to find ways and means to make the electorate cast their vote in higher numbers as far as possible? In countries such as Australia, voting at an election is compulsory.

In democratic Sri Lanka, they discourage people from voting by showing the ‘Rule book’ and cast the blame on the voter. Should it be the case?

In simple terms, what is required on an election day between 7am and 4pm is to ensure the legitimacy of the votes cast by preventing impersonators, foreigners (Non-Citizens) and those below 18 years from voting as citizens of Sri Lanka. Simple identification based on appearance, accent, the language spoken and identification by the local polling agents alone will prove that a person is a local or a foreigner.

It is only if a person is likely to be below 18 years, that the officials should exercise caution by calling for a valid identity card carrying the date of birth.

It must be remembered that the objective is to get more citizens to vote at an election and ensure Democracy!

The writer is unable to comment on the technological aspects of the counting process dealing with the more irksome issue of the so called ‘Vote –stuffing/rigging’ and happenings after 4 pm till the election results are announced! However, suffice it to ensure that Ballot boxes are ‘tamper-proof’ and counting centres are fully secured and adequately manned by polling agents from the respective parties.

Also, with the dawn of law and order in the North and East, the authorities can now carry out the National Census with more regularity.

Therefore, all the information required can be elicited by the Chairman of Election Commission from this data base as and when necessary.

Also, at a time when ‘citizenship’ is no more an issue and that elections are not held annually, it may be wasteful and redundant to collect polls data annually.

By adopting the aforesaid measures, the Elections Dept. can save millions of rupees and time spent on laborious annual data collection for polls registers.

Bernard Fernando,