Initial draft: January 26, 2021
Last updated: March 1, 2021
In this article, we propose four innovative and path-breaking reforms to the election process. These reforms would make democracies work significantly better, and benefit the voters, leaders, and the election machinery as well, in many ways. These reforms are applicable to all the democracies around the world. However, this article is written tailored to the context of democracy in India.
We call these reforms Saarvari Reforms, after the Indian name of the year in which these reforms are initially drafted. Saarvari, in various Indian languages, is written as शार्वरी, শার্বরী, શાર્વરી, ਸ਼ਾਰ੍ਵਰੀ, ಶಾರ್ವರೀ, ശാര്വരീ, ଶାର୍ଵରୀ, ஸார்வரீ and శార్వరీ.
We request the media and all public forums to bring awareness about these reforms to the general public. We request every citizen of India to review these reforms, suggest improvements, and share them in their circles, using all possible means including social media.
We specifically request three communities to critically review these reforms and suggest improvements. They are the IAS officers community, the Judges community, and the Journalists community. These three communities work very closely with people in every part of the country, and are intimately involved in the election process. Their review and suggestions will be extremely valuable to refine and fine-tune these reforms.
We urge the Government of India, the Election Commission of India, and the Governments of all the States and Union Territories to implement these reforms, using the powers vested in them.
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Elections are fundamental to any democracy. They are intended to help people put the best of the best leaders in power
. But, unfortunately, we do not see that happening consistently. The quality of leaders in power has been declining over the decades, constantly. Bad leaders, somehow, are able to come to the forefront and good leaders are going into the background, and even into oblivion.
People, vexed with the dominance of bad leaders in the echelons of power, wish that someone would take all of them to task and put them behind bars. But who will do that? There are no good leaders in power who can do that. But, why is it so? Why are there no good leaders in power? This is the question we fail to pose. Pause for a moment and think about it! Instead of focusing on the issue of the presence of bad leaders in power, we should focus on the issue of the absence of good leaders in power
. Maybe that shift in focus will help us find a few good answers.
The reason why good leaders are not in power is that they cannot win the elections, even if they contest. They are no match to the bad leaders who use all sorts of demagoguery and resort to all kinds of unscrupulous and unethical practices to win the elections. Good leaders cannot compromise their integrity and ethics to make false promises, or offer cheap enticements, or divide the voters along caste or religious lines, or fall at the feet of the party supremos, or rig the elections, or buy votes, the way bad leaders can.
So, the question is how can we help good leaders contest the elections and win? To answer this question, we take a cue from farming. Crops grow with good farming processes and weeds grow with bad farming processes
. This article is a result of looking into the election process, and upon close examination, finding that there are indeed certain issues in the current election process that makes it easy for the bad leaders to win and hard for the good leaders.
Here, we propose four specific reforms that a) increase the chance of good leaders getting elected and b) enable the voters to remove the bad leaders from power, easily and quickly. In addition, these reforms are also designed to solve several other nagging problems and bring many other significant benefits.
The four reforms are:
1. Multiple Winners per Constituency
2. Multiple Votes per Voter
3. Anytime Voting
4. Integrated Constituencies
We will discuss these reforms in detail now.
Reform 1: Multiple Winners per Constituency
The first thing we have to understand about the current election process is its zero-sum nature, i.e., one candidate's vote gain is another candidate's vote loss, and one candidate's power gain is another candidate's power loss. This makes the elections very contentious. Candidates have to fight tooth and nail to gain every single vote. They cannot afford to spare any effort, be it ethical or unethical, to win the election. Once even one of the candidates resorts to making false promises, or taking populistic stances, or appealing to the base emotions of voters, the other candidates have no choice but to follow suit. Whoever can outdo the others at such practices wins the elections.
It does not have to be this way. It does not have to be a zero-sum game. We can change this. We can let all the candidates who can get a minimum set number of votes, say 50,000 for the assembly constituencies and 3,00,000 for the parliament constituencies, win. With this change, there will be three to four MLAs/MPs from each constituency. If we are concerned about there being too many MLAs/MPs, we can raise the minimum required votes and combine two or three constituencies into one, and thus bring down the total number of MLAs/MPs.
This seemingly simple reform solves several problems and brings several benefits as follows:
1.1. First of all, with this change, there is no need for bitter fights. There is no need to win over all the other candidates, in order to win the election. All that the candidates have to do is to focus on getting the minimum votes, which any reasonably good candidate would be able to manage without having to resort to all kinds of unethical and unscrupulous practices. This means good candidates will have a higher chance of winning the elections in this new system than in the current system.
1.2. In the current system, the single candidate who wins the election is expected to address all the wide range of issues faced by the constituents. It is very unrealistic to expect any single individual to have a grasp of every single issue, much less the ability to address them. In the new system, there will be multiple leaders in power, and hence the chance of at least one of them having a grasp of any given issue is three to four times higher, which means more issues will get the required attention. Essentially, there will be multiple candidates serving each constituency.
1.3. Many voters, in the current system, abstain from voting, as they feel that their vote will go 'waste', because they fear that their chosen candidate will not win. In the new system, the majority of the voters will have three to four times higher chance of seeing their candidate win, because of the minimum-votes criterion. It will encourage every voter to vote and thus actively participate in the democratic process.
1.4. In the current system, candidates could win an election with just 30% to 40% of the voters voting for them, and the rest, either voting for the other candidates or abstaining from voting altogether. In other words, candidates not acceptable to the majority of the voters could win the election, and hold power over them. This is against the basic spirit of democracy. It should be the other way round and that is what the new system does. With the minimum-votes criterion, the majority of the voters will see a candidate acceptable to them in power, in the new system.
1.5. In the current system, it is very difficult for a candidate who is new or independent, or who is more service-oriented rather than politics-oriented, to win an election, because it is difficult for them to get more votes than everyone else. In the new system, it is three to four times easier for such candidates to win an election, because all they have to do is get the minimum number of votes.
1.6. In the current system, just a few votes can make all the difference, pushing a bad leader into power and leaving a good leader by the wayside. In the new system, because of the minimum votes criterion, the chances are that both would get elected. This means that the good leaders would also be in power, to counter the bad leaders.
1.7. Currently the population distribution among constituencies is not even. Some constituencies have 1.5 to 2 times that of the population of some other constituencies. As a result, one leader in one constituency serves a large number of people, while another leader in another constituency serves only a small number of people. Neither of these situations is desirable. In the current system, this problem would not get corrected until a census is taken and the boundaries of the constituencies are redrawn, which happens very rarely. In the new system, there would be no such need to redraw the boundaries at all. Because of the minimum vote criteria, constituencies with more population will send more leaders into power, and constituencies with less population will send fewer leaders into power. The size of the constituencies does not matter anymore.
1.8. in the current system, the major political parties are constrained to field only one candidate in the elections. It is a difficult choice to make, for the party. In the new system, a party can field more than one candidate, and let the voters decide which candidate or candidates they like. In fact, the very concept of party tickets may become obsolete with this reform. Any leader from any political party should be able to announce his/her candidacy without having to seek a party ticket.
1.9. In the current system, voters who like the party but not the candidate fielded by the party are in a bind. They have to either vote for a candidate they do not like, or vote for a candidate who is not from their party, or abstain from voting altogether. In the new system, since there will be multiple candidates from the same party, they are likely to find at least one candidate who is acceptable to them, and vote for him/her. This is also good for the parties. Parties can keep all their loyal voters.
Reform 2: Multiple Votes per Voter
No wise person will put all his money in one bank, or in one stock, or in one property. Similarly, no voter should put all his/her trust in one leader. No leader is infallible. But, the current election process, by giving only one vote per voter, forces the voter to put all his/her trust in one leader. And it is even worse if his/her chosen candidate does not win. Then the voter is forced, by the system, to put his/her trust in a leader, whom he/she did not trust to begin with. This is simply wrong. And the change we propose to right this wrong is to give multiple votes, say ten, to each voter. The voter, then, can distribute the ten votes to multiple candidates whom he/she considers to be good. As an example, one voter can give four votes to one candidate and four to another candidate, and the remaining two to a third candidate. Another voter can give all the ten votes to just one candidate. Yet another voter can give two each to five different candidates.
This reform brings additional benefits as follows:
2.1. It would be mentally stressful for any voter to determine the best candidate among the many, as there would be so many different factors to consider. It would rather be easier to determine who the top two or three reasonably good candidates are, and distribute the votes to them. This is what this reform enables the voters to do. It frees the voter from having to pick one and only one candidate and thereby reject all the others. Voting for only one candidate feels almost like ‘taking sides’. Elections should not be about taking sides. They should be about putting good candidates in power.
2.2. Many times, it also happens that a voter has loyalty to a particular political party, but personally favors a virtuous candidate of another political party. In the current system, the voter is forced to choose between the two. In the new system, the voters can distribute some of the votes to the candidate of their favorite party, and some to the candidate belonging to the other party. This allows the voters to make a statement that virtues are as important as party affiliations, and no one should win an election just because of the strength of affiliation to a particular political party.
2.3. The current system is built on the premise that the winning candidate would be able to serve all the constituents in a fair manner. But human nature being what it is, it is difficult for a leader to serve the voters who voted for him/her and the voters who did not, in the same manner. It is also difficult for the voters to approach a leader to whom they did not vote for, for any need. In the new system, because of multiple votes, it is almost certain that at least one of their chosen candidates will win the election, and hence they would have at least one leader whom they can approach legitimately, for any need.
2.4. Earlier, we discussed how the minimum votes criterion makes it easy for new and independent candidates to win the election. This reform makes it even easier for them to win the election, because voters have multiple votes, and can afford to give a couple of their votes to them. Voters can 'keep the old as well as try the new' with this reform. This will have a huge impact on letting new blood flow into the system, which is essential for the health of the democracy.
Reform 3: Anytime Voting
In the current system, winning candidates are guaranteed power for five years. It is next to impossible to hold them accountable during those five years, till the next election. This is simply not right. Any worker in any job in the world gets fired or punished immediately if he/she does not meet expectations or does something wrong. It should be the same for an elected leader also. Hence we propose that we should let the voters withdraw their votes at any time to any leader whose competency or ethics become questionable, and give those votes to a different or a new candidate. In other words, we propose that we should let voters redistribute their votes at any time as they feel necessary.
We can facilitate anytime vote redistribution, by taking advantage of the advances in information technology. We propose setting up a centralized computer system to manage the list of voters, the list of candidates, and the distribution of votes, and the vote counts for each candidate. The election commission should keep the votes of the individual voters confidential, like banks do depositors’ accounts, and publish the up-to-date vote count of every single registered candidate every single day.
We also propose setting up 'election offices' all over the country that are open round the year, like all the other government offices do, to facilitate the redistribution of votes by the voters anywhere and at any time. Or, alternatively, ‘vote redistribution’ services can be added to the existing e-seva centers or registrar offices or post offices, which are already spread all over the country and which are open all through the year.
In this new system, leaders can register themselves as candidates with the election commission at any time, and need not wait till the next election. Then, they can go ahead and seek votes from the electorate. The candidates would become MLAs or MPs whenever their vote count exceeds the minimum required votes. Similarly, whenever their vote count falls below the minimum votes mark, they will cease to be MLAs or MPs and would become candidates again.
However, there is one concern we need to address. We should prevent voters from impulsively redistributing their votes too frequently. So, we propose imposing a three-month delay between two successive redistributions. This means, a voter has to wait for at least three months, before he/she can redistribute his/her votes again, since his/her last distribution. This would also reduce the workload on the election offices and on the computer systems. In practice, we can expect voters to redistribute their votes only when any of their chosen candidates fails to live up to their expectations, or when a new and promising candidate appears on the scene, which only happens once in a while.
Similarly, there is one other concern that needs to be addressed. What if a candidate’s vote count crosses the minimum votes mark one day and falls below it the next day, because of voters redistributing the votes? This fluctuation can put a candidate in power one day and remove him/her from power the next day. This sort of high volatility is certainly undesirable. To address this, we impose another three-month limit. A candidate will come to power only if his/her vote count stays above the minimum vote count for three months continuously. Similarly, a leader in power will lose his/her position only if his/her vote count stays below the minimum vote count for three months continuously.
This reform will bring several benefits, as follows:
3.1. In the current system, the atmosphere gets highly charged with allegations, counter-allegations, skirmishes, and so on, as the election day approaches. The discretion of the voters gets impaired because of this commotion. They could even vote against their own best interest, under such conditions. And they have to live with their decision for five years. With this reform, there will not be any election season anymore. The voters can take as much time as they need before they redistribute their votes. If they make a mistake, or if they come to know some new information, good or bad, about a candidate, they can change their decision and redistribute their votes after three months. This process improves the quality of voters’ discretion multiple times.
3.2. The elections, in the current system, are like a gamble for every candidate. The leaders in power can never be sure about winning the next election. This propels them to ‘make hay while the sun shines’. Those who are not in power sling mud on those who are, to discredit them. It should not be this way. Good leaders who consistently keep the trust of the voters, who strive to adjust their behavior and improve their performance according to their expectations, should be able to stay in power continuously for ten, twenty, or thirty years, without having to go through a very expensive and uncertain process of reelection every five years. That is what this reform enables. This is multiple times healthier and smoother than the current once-in-five-years gamble process, for the leaders.
3.3. In the current system, the 'election season' causes disruption to public life in big and small ways for almost six months to a year. With the new system, there will be no elections and hence no such disruption. Also, in the current system, the ‘election season’ places a heavy workload on the election machinery once every few years but leaves it idle for long periods in between. It is common to see resources being drawn from other branches of government during the election season, disrupting their normal function. In the new system, with the vote redistribution happening all year round, the workload on these offices gets distributed evenly throughout the year, like it is in any other Government department. There will be no need to draw additional resources from any other department.
3.4. In the current system, anyone who turns eighteen is eligible to vote. But if someone turns eighteen right after the day of the election, he/she has to wait till the next election, i.e., till the age of twenty-three, to exercise his/her right to vote. In the new system, there will be no such long delay for eligible voters. As soon as one turns eighteen, one can go to an election office, register oneself as a voter, and distribute one’s votes to the candidates of one’s choice on the same day.
3.5. In the current system, people who are away from home have to disrupt their work or business or a pleasure trip or pilgrimage, to come back to their home polling station on the election day to cast their vote. In the new system, there are no polling stations or election dates. Voters can redistribute their votes at their leisure, and can do so from any place at any time, as all the election offices are open all year round and connected to the same central computer system.
3.6. In the current system, we do not have a good solution for Indian citizens who happen to be abroad for various reasons at the time of elections, to vote. This reform solves that problem also. The vote redistribution services can be added to all consulates abroad, along with all other consular services.
3.7. If an election MLA/MP switches his/her affiliation from one political party to the other, should he/she lose his/her position? There has been much debate, constitutional provisions and amendments and supreme court rulings on this question, but no satisfactory resolution. The new system answers this question elegantly, by letting the voters decide whether the switch is done for the right reasons or wrong reasons. If the voters feel that the switch is done for the wrong reasons, they can simply withdraw their votes to the particular leader.
3.8. In the current system, many government programs and initiatives come to an abrupt end or meet with uncertainty, every five years. Investments made till then cold go waste. This is a loss of national resources and impedes national progress. With the continuous elections, there would be no such abrupt ends. Everything will take its natural course, either to evolve into something better and bigger, or to peter out. That is how we want a democracy to function, and that is what this reform enables.
3.9. What happens if a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, tsunami, floods, or pandemic, hits unexpectedly at the time of elections? In the current system, the elections have to be postponed. All the preparations and the expense involved in conducting the elections go waste. The incumbent leadership will stay in power for more weeks or months of power, which it should not be. In the new system, there will be no such problems, as the elections happen round the year. It is not a huge problem if the election offices are not open for a few weeks or a couple of months, just as would be the case for all the government offices.
3.10. In the current system, voters have to resort to media posts, on-line petitions, street demonstrations, and protests to express their displeasure or disapproval of the actions of leaders and calling for their resignation. This leads to violence and disruption of life, both for the protestors and for the general public. In the end, the protesters run out of energy and the protests die down. Plus, organizing such protests and demonstrations is not easy and hence actually most of the misdeeds of the leaders and the governments go unchallenged. In the new system, there is no need for any of such wasteful petitions, demonstrations, protests, violence. They can immediately remove the leaders who are paying a deaf ear to them from power, by redistributing their votes to other leaders or to new leaders.
3.11. In the current system, there is no good mechanism for the leaders to gain feedback on their performance from the voters. Opinion polls, approval ratings, etc., are neither regular, nor reliable. Whereas in the new system, the changes in the vote count serve as instant feedback to the leaders about their performance. Even if the vote count falls below the minimum required votes, the leader would have three months time to regain the trust of the voters.
3.12. In the current system, there is no good mechanism to recall leaders who are falling below expectation either from the performance or from the ethics perspective. Whereas in the new system, the recall process is built in. Any voter can withdraw his/her votes to the candidate any time. If the vote count of an MLA/MP falls below the minimum required, he/she will lose the position automatically.
3.13. With this reform, with no elections as we know now, there would be no need for that ink-mark to be put on the finger of the voter, and there is no need to worry about one voter casting multiple votes. Voters can be uniquely identified with the Aadhar card or a Voter card.
Reform 4: Integrated Constituencies
In the current system, voters can give their vote only for the candidates contesting from their own constituency. There is a problem with this limitation. Suppose there is a leader who is passionate about addressing the issues of a specific population segment, such as disabled people. In the current system, or even with the first three reforms, he/she would not win an election, no matter which constituency he/she contests from, because the votes of one such population segment would be very small. The same problem will be faced by candidates passionate about addressing issues specific to any other population segment such as teachers, doctors, weavers, traders, software engineers, farmers, transportation workers, and so on. Good leaders are thus left by the wayside in the current system.
In order to solve this problem, we propose enabling the voters to distribute their votes to any candidate from any constituency. Then, all the disabled voters from all constituencies, for example, can distribute some of their votes to candidates who are passionate about solving their problems, and thus help them gain the minimum votes and get into power. Today, there is hardly any leader in power who is conversant with all the issues of the farmers. There is no leader who takes a long term perspective about the issues farmers face. They only try to exploit the needs and stoke the emotions of the farmers to win the elections. This is very sad and is not what we should expect in a democracy. This reform helps experts in every field, rather than just the career politicians, to come into power.
In fact, with this reform, we can even get rid of the concept of constituencies altogether. We can let the candidates enroll with the election commission without a reference to any specific constituency. We can let the voters distribute their votes to any candidate from anywhere. This solves an important issue we face in the current system. Consider the situation, where there is a bill that is good for the state/nation as a whole, but requires a certain sacrifice from the constituency. What is an MLA/MP supposed to do in that situation, in the current system? The Constitution assumes that the MLA/MP would focus on the interests of the state/nation as a whole. But the voters assume that the MLA/MP would focus on the interests of the constituency. These two contradictory assumptions put any conscientious MLA/MP in a bind. In the current system, most MLAs and MPs align with voters’ assumptions, which results in regionalism that is not desirable. By removing the concept of constituencies, we make this a moot point. Every leader, by virtue of gaining votes from across the state/nation will be viewed as a state/national level leader, and would be expected to focus on state/national level issues. The local issues should be and will be, anyway, addressed by local bodies like the Zilla Parishads, municipal corporations, and the panchayat boards.
In the current system, small, poor and powerless communities hardly have any representation. To address this, in the current system, we reserved certain constituencies for SC, ST, women candidates. This is not a good solution because, neither can the leader represent the majority communities of the specific constituency, nor can he/she represent the minority community of the entire state/nation. With this reform, minorities everywhere can elect leaders of their choice and the leaders can represent the minority community from all over the state/nation.
In the current system, a candidate is allowed to contest from two constituencies, and if he/she wins both, he/she has to resign from one of the constituencies and a bye-election needs to be conducted. With this reform, there will be no constituencies, and hence anyone contesting from two constituencies becomes a moot point. Voters from two or more regions of the state/nation can vote for the same candidate if they so wish.
It is not necessary for these reforms to be implemented all at once. They can be implemented one by one, in the sequence described above, if preferred. Each reform makes democracy that much better by itself and lays the foundation for the subsequent reforms.
The first reform of ‘multiple winners per constituency’ is very easy to implement with a stroke of a pen, without changing anything else in the current election process and without requiring a centralized computer system. The first reform itself brings almost half of the intended benefits of these reforms. The second, third and fourth reforms, however, are better implemented together, after establishing a centralized computer system.
The reforms can be first tried in one or two states and then can be rolled out throughout the country at the state level and at the national level, if desired.
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These reforms, which we presented here at length, are not as complicated as they may sound. Just as a driver need not know all the parts and engineering of a car in order to drive it, neither the voters nor the candidates need to know all the details of these reforms, to adapt to the new system. All that the voters have to know is that they can go to any election office at any time and distribute their votes to all the candidates they consider to be reasonably good. All that the candidates have to know is that they can register with the election commission at any time, and get the minimum number of votes to get into power, and keep them to stay in power. The described benefits will automatically follow, by virtue of the process.
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India should implement these reforms and derive the described benefits as soon as possible. India should then export these reforms to all the other democracies, for they are also hurting, locked in similar archaic election processes.
India should lead the world by the power of its example.
Note: This article will be continuously updated based on the suggestions received from time to time. Please revisit this page to get the latest revision of this article.
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A common man with no political ambition or affiliation.