Linking Aadhaar with voter ID among poll reforms cleared by Cabinet

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From linking Aadhaar with voter IDs to easing enrolment of first-time voters, the Cabinet on Wednesday approved some key electoral reforms.

The reforms are part of a slew of suggestions made by the Election Commission to the Law Ministry that included Aadhaar-linking to avoid duplication, a single electoral roll and remote voting among others.

Sources told The Indian Express that the linking of Aadhaar with voter IDs will be allowed on a “voluntary basis”. This was a key reform proposed by the Election Commission to collect and use Aadhaar data for “cleaning” voters’ list as a “back-end exercise”.

According to officials aware of the development, the reform will be reflected in amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the Aadhaar Act, 2016.

In September 2019, the Law Ministry had written back stating that the poll panel’s rationale would “pass the benchmark test laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court for collecting Aadhaar details for purposes other than getting benefits of state-sponsored schemes”. However, given the Supreme Court’s emphasis on the need for “protecting the privacy of individuals”, the ministry had asked the Election Commission to list the safeguards built into the electoral roll data platform. In January last year, the Law Ministry have its go-ahead.

The Cabinet on Wednesday also cleared the Election Commission’s proposal to ease the enrolment schedule for first-time voters. Under the new proposal, sources said, enrolment of first-time voters will be allowed four times a year.

The Representation of the People Act currently allows voter registration for those who have attained the age of 18 only once. Only those who have attained the age of 18 years as on January 1 of that year or before is eligible to be enrolled in the voters’ list.

The third electoral reform cleared by the Cabinet is making voting by special procedure gender neutral. Currently, an Army man’s wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, but a woman Army officer’s husband is not allowed.

Section 60 of the Representation of the People Act refers to “such wife being ordinarily residing with that person” for allowing enrolment as a service voter. Sources said the Act will now be amended to replace the word “wife” with “spouse”.

The Cabinet nod for the voting reforms comes ahead of assembly elections scheduled in five states – Goa, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Manipur – early next year.

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