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Why make polls register and identity mandatory for voting?

The recent Presidential Elections brought into focus,   two administrative requirements for voting purposes-viz.the need to have one’s name registered in the polls register and be the holder of a valid Identity card. Apparently, these two requirements are imposed to prevent voting by a non-citizen  and/or the same person voting  for a second time or more at the same election.

 The question arises as to why a genuine citizen over 18 years of age who cannot meet these two requirements, should be prevented from voting when over the years, SriLanka has witnessed an average polling percentage of less than 80% ?

 From the inception of voting in Sri Lanka, it is seen that the unpolled number of votes can lead to a reversal of the final outcome! For example, in the recent Presidential election (where just one vote more than 50% of the valid votes cast could determine the winner) we found that the majority obtained by the winner was 1,842,749 while the number of registered voters who did not cast their vote remained at an astounding 3,593,049!

It is true that the unpolled number included non-residents, patients, disabled and those not holding valid IDs. The fact that a substantial number of ‘otherwise- eligible’ citizens remained unregistered in the 2008 polls register makes the matter worse!

 Shouldn’t it spur the election officials to find ways and means to persuade the electorate cast their vote in higher numbers as far as possible? In countries like Australia, voting at an election is compulsory. In democratic Sri Lanka, they discourage people

from voting by showing the ‘Rule book’as aforesaid.

Moreover, by not updating the 2008 polls register, the relevant authorities have exhibited their inefficiency, lack of interest to adopt quick methods,   take decisions and use modern technology.  They simply cast the blame on the poor voter. Should it be the case?

If the election was declared at short notice, they should have at least allowed the unregistered voters to go to the polling booth and cast their vote as citizens of Sri Lanka subject to their identification on the basis of the language they speak, identification by the local polling agents and /or any other method to prove that the person is not a foreigner and is above 18 years of age.

If a person is likely to be below 18 years, the officials can exercise more caution. For administrative purposes, this unregistered category may be given a differently coloured slip to cast their vote. After all, the objective is to get more citizens to vote at an election and ensure Democracy!

 Coming to the moot point, if the reason for having the aforesaid administrative requirements is to prevent unscrupulous elements voting twice, the answer is already there! It is only a matter of improving the quality of the so called’ indelible ink ‘that is used to paint the finger at polling time so that the mark cannot be removed at least within the next 09 hours! Impersonation during polling time can be eliminated by this method.

 Also, with the dawn of law and order in the North and East, the authorities can now embark on a fresh National census which can be continued with more regularity. Thereafter, all the information required for polling matters can be elicited from this data base as and when necessary. Also, at a time where citizenship is no more an issue and that elections are not held annually, it may not be necessary to collect polls data annually.

By adopting this method, we can save millions of rupees and time spent on laborious data collection for polls registers. We sincerely hope that this proposal will catch the eye of the authorities and encourage them to take all possible steps at the forth coming General Elections.

Bernard Fernando, Moratuwa

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