Secrecy Of Ballots

  • On 21st June, 2022, in a significant judgment, the Supreme Court(SC) held that Secrecy of ballot is the cornerstone of free and fair elections.

Background

  • The judgment came on an appeal against the Allahabad High Court (HC) decision setting aside the voting of a no-confidence motion in a zila panchayat in Uttar Pradesh in 2018.
  • The High Court found that some of the panchayat members had violated the rule of secrecy of ballot.
  • The appellants in the SC contended that the principle of secrecy of ballots was not an absolute principle, and that voluntary waiver of the privilege was permissible.
  • They referred to Section 94 of the Representation of Peoples Act to state that voter can voluntarily chose to waive the secrecy of ballot.
  • Further, they argued that the HC has wrongly held that the voluntary waiver principle could not apply to the case in hand with respect to the members of the Zila Panchayat voting on a no confidence motion.
  • The SC referred to Section 28(8) of the Uttar Pradesh Kshettra Panchayat and Zila Panchayat Adhiniyam, 1961 and ordered a re-vote of the motion within the next two months, by the secret ballot system.

Key Points of SC Verdict

  • The Supreme Court has observed that the principle of secret ballot is an important postulate of constitutional democracy.
  • It is to be observed that one of the fundamental principles of election law pertains to the maintenance of free and fair elections, ensuring the purity of elections.
  • It referred to Section 94 of the Representation of People Act, which upholds the privilege of the voter to maintain confidentiality about her choice of vote.
  • It is the policy of law to protect the right of voters to secrecy of the ballot.
  • The choice of a voter should be free and the secret ballot system in a democracy ensures it.
  • Even a remote or distinct possibility that a voter can be forced to disclose for whom she has voted would act as a positive constraint and a check on the freedom to exercise of franchise.
  • However, a voter can also voluntarily waive the privilege of non-disclosure.
  • The privilege ends when the voter decides to waive the privilege and instead volunteers to disclose as to whom she had voted.
  • No one can prevent a voter from doing. Nor can a complaint be entertained from any, including the person who wants to keep the voter’s mouth sealed as to why she disclosed for whom she voted.

Secret Ballot

  • The secret ballot, also known as Australian ballot, is a voting method in which a voter's choices in an election or a referendum are anonymous, forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation, blackmailing, and potential vote buying.
  • The system is one means of achieving the goal of political privacy.

Representation of People’s Act

The Parliament has enacted the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1950 and Representation of the People Act, 1951.

Provisions of RPA, 1950

  • Seat allocation in the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assemblies through direct elections.
  • The voters’ qualifications for the elections.
  • The delimitation of constituencies for both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. The extent of the constituencies would be determined by the Delimitation Commission.
  • Preparation of the electoral roll.

Provisions of RPA, 1951

  • All matters relating to the actual conduct of elections are governed by the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1951.
  • Talks about corruption and other illegal activities related to elections.
  • The Act makes provisions for dispute redressal in matters connected to elections.
  • It specifies the qualifications and disqualifications for membership of the Houses.

Source : Civil Services Chronicle Online, June, 2020