Photos on ballot papers from May 15

The Election Commission has decided to print ballot papers with photographs of all candidates contesting parliamentary and Assembly polls in a radical change likely to eliminate the possibility of "namesakes" scuppering the chances of a potential winner in close contests.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 26.04.15
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New Delhi, April 25: The Election Commission has decided to print ballot papers with photographs of all candidates contesting parliamentary and Assembly polls in a radical change likely to eliminate the possibility of "namesakes" scuppering the chances of a potential winner in close contests.

The change would come into effect from May 15, the commission (EC) told the Supreme Court in an affidavit.

In the affidavit submitted before a bench headed by Justice A.R. Dave, the commission's counsel, Amit Sharma, said the panel had decided to make photo ballot papers mandatory for all Assembly and Lok Sabha elections held after May 15.

The decision should make it easier for unlettered voters to press the correct button as most of them often vote by looking at a party's symbol and get confused when parties field dummy Independent candidates to cut into the votes of a rival.

The affidavit said the commission had already taken the decision, following threadbare discussions with various stakeholders, including governments and NGOs, and issued instructions to all parties. "It is... submitted that on the basic issue of printing photograph(s) on the ballot paper after considering all aspects of the matter, the answering respondent (EC) has already taken the decision and issued instructions in this regard vide its letter dated 16-03, 2015.

"As per the instructions, issued in the elections to be held from May 15, 2015, photographs of the candidates will be printed on the ballot paper in the panel containing the name(s) of the candidates to the right side of the name(s). The size of the photograph(s)... will be 2cm x 2.5cm," the affidavit said, adding that candidates would be required to submit their latest photographs taken within three months before the notification of elections.

The affidavit followed a public interest plea filed by a Delhi resident, Akash Gahlot, who claimed that since 2004, parties were increasingly fielding dummy namesake candidates to confuse voters, particularly those unlettered, semi-literate and not so vigilant. Gahlot said the "problems of namesakes" had reached "epidemic proportions" in the 2014 general election. Earlier, in the 2004 general election, he said, party strategists had realised the potential of namesakes as a tool against rivals in close contests.

The petitioner cited the defeat of P.M. Ismail, the CPM candidate in Kerala's Muvattupuzha Lok Sabha constituency in 2004, as a glaring instance. It was submitted that in a triangular contest, Ismail lost to P.C. Thomas of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) by 529 votes. Gahlot claimed Ismail would have won had his namesakes not polled 3,466 votes.

In the same election, Kerala Congress leader V.M. Sudheeran had lost the Lok Sabha election from Alappuzha by a margin of 1,009 votes. The game changer, the PIL said, was V.S. Sudheeran, who managed to poll 8,282 votes.

"It was probably then that party strategists realised the potential of namesakes as a tool against rivals in (a) close contest," the petition said.

"Since then, namesake candidates have been eating into the vote share of candidates of mainstream political parties...," the PIL said, adding that results have shown that many such candidates have polled more votes as Independents or candidates of smaller political parties than bigger parties.

The PIL also claimed that in the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections, there were many dummy candidates in a number of constituencies and the Aam Aadmi Party's symbol (broom) was confused with the flaming torch, the symbol allotted to Independents.