India is a Constitutional Democracy, with a Parliamentary system of Government, and at the heart of the system is a commitment to hold regular, free and fair elections.
These elections determine the composition of the Government, the membership of the two Houses of Parliament, the State and Union Territory Legislative Assemblies, and the Presidency and Vice-Presidency.
Elections in India are conducted according to the constitutional provisions, supplemented by laws made by the Parliament.
The major laws are the Representation of the People Act, 1950, which mainly deals with the preparation and revision of electoral rolls, and the Representation of the People Act, 1951 which deals, in detail, with all aspects of conduct of elections and post election disputes.
The Supreme Court of India has held that where the enacted laws are silent or make insufficient provision to deal with a given situation in the conduct of elections, the Election Commission has the residuary powers under the Constitution to act in an appropriate manner.
The conduct of General Elections in India for electing a new Lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha) involves management of the largest event in the world. The electorate exceeds 670 million electors in about 700000 polling stations spread across widely varying geographic and climatic zones.
Polling stations are located in the snow-clad mountains in the Himalayas, the deserts of the Rajasthan and in sparsely populated islands in the Indian Ocean.
Election Commission of India
The Election Commission of India is an autonomous Constitutional authority responsible for administering the election processes in India.
The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, state legislatures, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country. The Election Commission operates under the authority of Constitution, as per Article 324, and the subsequently enacted Representation of the People Act.
The Commission has the powers under the Constitution, to act in an appropriate manner when the enacted laws make insufficient provisions to deal with a given situation in the conduct of an election.
Chief Electoral Officer
According to the provisions of the above-mentioned acts, the CEO has a significant role to play during the elections to the office of the President and the Vice-President of India.
The CEO supervises the preparation, revision and maintenance of the electoral rolls in the state. It is the duty of the Chief Electoral Officer to ensure free and fair elections in the state, such that more percentage of votes is cast.
It is the responsibility of the CEO to enhance communication between the voters of a state and the different departments of elections within the state. Most importantly, it is the task of the CEO to ensure that no political party has any control with the elections in the state.
At the district and constituency levels, the District Election Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and Returning Officers, who are assisted by a large number of junior functionaries, perform election work.
They all perform their functions relating to elections in addition to their other responsibilities. During election time, however, they are available to the Commission, more or less, on a full time basis.
Electoral Registration Officer
Under the provision of Section 13(b) & 13(c) of the R.P. Act, 1950 the Election Commission of India appoints Electoral Registration Officers & Assistant Electoral Registration Officers in consultation with the State Government.
The Electoral Registration Officer under the guidance and control of the Election Commission of India prepares and carries out revision of electoral rolls.
During the electoral rolls revision programme, the Electoral Registration Officer can appoint designated officers at the polling stations by the powers delegated under rule 14 of the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960.
These designated officers accept the applications from the electors regarding addition or correction in their names and also applications regarding objections.
He oversees the control, superintendence and discipline of the Election Commission. A Presiding office is the most important officer at the polling station.
A very important role has been assigned to him to perform at the polling station in the conduct of poll. He enjoys full legal power to control the proceedings in the polling station under his charge.
At the same time he is fully responsible for all the activities taking place at the polling station. At the polling station, it is his primary duty and responsibility to ensure a free and fair poll at his polling station.
Observers have been dispatched by the Election Commission to every constituency to monitor the elections and to ensure that everything is conducted as per the law.
Governments get a set of enthusiastic and diligent observers who ensure that the elections are conducted in a free and fair manner, without fear or favour, with electoral rectitude and financial prudence.
The election duty is divided into three phases – election campaign, actual elections, and counting. In between, the observers go back to their regular place of posting.