India is the world's largest democracy. A democracy is a form of government in which power is held directly or indirectly by citizens under a free electoral system. The elections are spread across 543 constituencies. Each constituency has a winner who will take one seat in the government.
Why are elections held?
The elections determine the composition of the government, the membership of the two houses of parliament, the membership of the state and union territory legislative assemblies and the presidency and vice-presidency.
Constituencies: The country is divided into 543 parliamentary constituencies, each of which brings one Member of Parliament to the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Parliament. The Parliament consists of the President, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. The Prime Minister runs the government. Although the government is headed by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet is the central decisionmaking body of the government.
The State Government: India is a federal country, which means that the constitution gives the states and union territories control over their own governments. The Vidhan Sabhas (legislative assemblies) are directly elected bodies set up to carry out the administration of the state government.
Elections to the Vidhan Sabhas are carried out in the same manner as for the Lok Sabha, with the states and union territories divided into single-member constituencies. The assemblies range in size, according to population. Uttar Pradesh has the largest Vidhan Sabha with 425 members. Pondicherry has the smallest with 30 members.
Electing a President
The President is elected by the elected members of the Vidhan Sabha, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and serves for a period of five years (although they can stand for re election). The Vice President is elected by a direct vote of all members, elected and nominated, of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
Who can vote?
In India, any Indian citizen over the age of 18 can vote in an election (before 1989 the age limit was 21). The right to vote is irrespective of caste, creed, religion or gender. People who are of unsound mind and people convicted of certain criminal offences are not allowed to vote.
What is an electoral roll?
The electoral roll is a list of all people in the constituency who are registered to vote. The electoral roll is normally revised every year to add the names of those who are to turn 18 on January 1 of that year or have moved into a constituency and to remove the names of those who have died or moved out of a constituency.
The Voting Process
Voting is by secret ballot. Polling stations are usually set up in public institutions, such as schools and community halls. To enable as many electors as possible to vote, the officials of the Election Commission try to ensure that there is a polling station within 2kms of every voter and that no polling station should have to deal with more than 1,200 voters. Each polling station is open for at least eight hours on the day of the election.
On entering the polling station, the elector is checked against the electoral roll and allocated a ballot paper. The elector votes by marking the ballot paper with a rubber stamp on or near the symbol of the candidate of his choice, inside a screened compartment in the polling station. The voter then folds the ballot paper and inserts it in a common ballot box which is kept in full view of the presiding officer and polling agents of the candidates. This marking system eliminates the possibility of ballot papers being taken out of the polling station or not being put in the ballot box. Electronic voting follows a similar process.