Even as the government considers amending the law to require the linking of Voter IDs to Aadhaar, the Election Commission of India announced that it will now start issuing digital voter IDs and accept e-KYC, presumably Aadhaar-based, on the National Voters’ Services Portal. The change could lay the groundwork to require that all Electoral Photo ID Cards, or EPICs, be linked to Aadhaar.
This change has been a long time coming — the Election Commission was discussing the prospect last February with the Ministry of Law & Justice, and a senior EC official told MediaNama that a platform to link Aadhaar and EPIC would be created. The government said in a parliamentary response last year that it would amend the Representation of the People Act to facilitate this linking.
The Election Commission has already been linking Aadhaar and EPICs since 2015, under the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP). Lakhs of voters were allegedly kicked off of voter lists in the run up to the 2019 General Election in the aftermath of NERPAP.
Our take: The looming disenfranchisement risk
Why is there such an aggressive move to link voter IDs with Aadhaar? To quote the government, the proposal is being mooted to “ensure preparation of error free electoral roll and to prevent duplication of entries”. Is this the kind of problem that has the scale or severity to warrant a nationwide Aadhaar-EPIC linking mandate? “If they prescribe it in the law that it will be mandatory, then it will be mandatory,” the Election Commission official told MediaNama last year.
Registering for voting and going to vote is already a process that has several checks in place in India. From periodic voter roll purges based on door-to-door visits to physically inking voters’ fingers, there are already time-tested systems in place to ensure election accuracy. The sole problem that arises out of duplication in voters being registered in more than one place due to moving is that the turnout statistics for the district they used to reside in appears a little lower than it actually is. Is that an issue worth requiring, or even facilitating, Aadhaar-EPIC linkage at a nationwide scale? If, instead, voter fraud from duplicate registration is a problem the government is implying is a risk, then where is the evidence that it poses enough of a threat to election security to consider Aadhaar-EPIC linking?
A scan of Aadhaar is already accepted as an ID proof for applying for voter IDs. In fact, even a self-addressed envelope is accepted as address proof. This is because it is important for the right to vote to be easily accessible, and also because all voter registrations are required to be field verified. Adding an authentication layer on top of this — possibly a mandatory one — is as unnecessary as it is risky, potentially disenfranchising several voters who don’t have Aadhaar. Remember that Aadhaar is not yet mandatory in India, but tying it to the right to franchise might make it inescapable.