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Issue of cross-voting and ‘open ballot’ system

  • IASbaba
  • June 23, 2020
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Issue of cross-voting and ‘open ballot’ system

Part of: GS-Prelims and Mains GS-II – Polity and Governance; Elections

Context:

What is ‘crossing the floor’ or ‘Cross Voting’?

  • In politics, a politician is said to cross the floor if they change their party allegiance. 
  • Crossing the floor may mean changing to a second party after being elected as a member of a first party, or voting against the approved party lines.
  • For instance, during the election to Rajya Sabha, when an MLA from x party cast his vote in favour of y party candidate then it is termed as cross voting.

Concept of ‘open ballot’ system during the election to Rajya Sabha

  • Rule 39AA of the Conduct of Election Rules of 1961 provides for open ballot system.
  • A voter may show his/her marked ballot paper to the authorised representative of his/her political party before dropping it into the ballot box.
  • Rule 39AA provides that marked votes of MLAs are to be shown only to the authorised representative of their political party before being dropped into the ballot box, and any transgression will amount to their votes being declared invalid.
  • In case of independent MLAs, they do not have to show their votes to “anyone at all”.
  • However, Rule 39AA is silent on who would be the authorised representative for a rebel MLA.
  • ‘Open ballot’ system was adopted to prevent corruption. 

SC on ‘Open’ ballot process

  • ‘Open’ ballot process was challenged in SC by Kuldip Nayar alleging that it stifled free speech and expression of a voter, which is at the core of democracy.
  • In 2006, a five-judge bench led by then CJI Y K Sabharwal unanimously upheld the constitutional validity of the ‘open ballot’ system and said: “if secrecy becomes a source for corruption, then sunlight and transparency have the capacity to remove it.”
  • SC bench also said “Voting in elections to Council of States cannot be compared with a general election. In a general election, the elector have to vote in a secret manner without fear that their votes would be disclosed to anyone or would result in victimization. There is no party affiliation and hence the choice is entirely with voter. This is not the case when elections are held to the Council of States as the electors are elected members of the legislative assemblies who in turn have affiliations.”

Do you know?

  • To deal with money and muscle power, engineering splits in political parties and defections, parliament had enacted anti-defection law to combat this political evil.
  • This provided for disqualification of an MP or MLA if s/he “votes or abstains from voting” contrary to the directions of her/his party.
  • However, the anti-defection law is not applicable to RS elections.
  • According to Election Commission, political parties cannot issue any whip, like they do in the Legislative Assembly, asking their MLAs to vote for a particular candidate. They can issue instructions but it is left to political organisations to take action as they deem fit if an MLA defies the party‘s order. 

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