70+ years of Independence!
It’s time for some radical election reforms!
A radically different model that utilizes modern age information technologies to address the numerous issues, problems, bad practices and bad outcomes in the election process.
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Plava Model in Detail
Note: The reforms presented in this article are applicable to democracies all over the world, but this article is written tailored to the context of India.
There are many election models, which are known by such names as First Past The Post (FPTP), Proportional Representation, Preferential Voting, Single Transferable Vote, Additional Member System and so on, that are defined and studied in the political science circles all over the world. Each one of these has its own merits. But each one also has its own issues that compromise the spirit of democracy to a certain extent. At the time of framing the constitution, after much debate, the FPTP model was chosen for Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections because of its simplicity, though with certain apprehension about its effects on public life and governance. Now, we have over seventy years of experience with this model. And we clearly see that it is rewarding unscrupulous, short-sighted, unprincipled and selfish behavior among political parties, individual politicians, and even among voters.
In this article, we propose an altogether different model, which inherently promotes and rewards better behavior among political parties, politicians, and voters. It increases the chances of good leaders who are competent, ethical, and principled, winning the elections. It enables the voters to quickly and easily remove bad leaders from power. It makes it easier for new leaders with better ideas and skills to enter the fray and win the elections. It increases the chances of service-oriented leaders, rather than politically-oriented leaders winning the election. It minimizes the 'wasted' votes and hence encourages higher voter participation. It gives confidence to the political parties that they can field good candidates and yet win the election. Once the proportion of good leaders in power goes up, everything will become better.
We call this new model the Plava model, after the Indian name of the year that starts with Ugadi in 2021 and ends with Ugadi in 2022, in which this model was initially developed. Plava literally means 'that which ferries us across'. According to Varaha Samhita, the Plava year ferries the world across unbearable difficulties to a state of glory. Plava is written in various Indian languages as प्लव, প্লব, પ્લવ, ਪ੍ਲਵ, ಪ್ಲವ, പ്ലവ, ପ୍ଲଵ, ப்லவ and ప్లవ. This model can be realized with a series of four reforms, which we call Plava reforms. The four reforms are:
1. Minimum Votes
2. Multiple Votes
3. Anytime Voting
4. No Constituencies
These reforms may seem counterintuitive at first, but one would understand the great benefits of each one of them upon going through the details given below.
The reforms may also seem radical and disruptive at first, but they can be implemented one by one in a gradual manner without causing huge disruption to the normal course of democratic function and governance. There is nothing in these reforms that goes against the spirit of the Constitution or democracy. It is rather the opposite. Each reform helps us get to the spirit of the Constitution and democracy even closer.
Reform 1: Minimum Votes
In the current election model, only one candidate who gets the maximum number of votes wins. In the new model, we propose that every candidate who gains a minimum set number of votes, say 50,000 for the assembly constituencies and 3,00,000 for the parliament constituencies, should be declared as a winner. (With this change, three to four candidates would win the election. And hence there would be multiple MLAs/MPs from each constituency. If we are concerned about there being too many MLAs/MPs, we can address it by raising the minimum required votes and combining two or three constituencies into one.)
This seemingly simple reform solves several problems and brings several benefits as follows:
1.1. In the current model, a candidate who gets even one vote less than his immediate rival loses the election. This makes the elections very contentious and every candidate is forced to fight tooth and nail to snatch every single vote from the opponents. They resort to making false promises, taking populistic stances, appealing to the base emotions of voters, and so on. Even the conscientious and principled candidates are forced to resort to such techniques, once the others do so, if they want to win the election. In the new model, every candidate who has a base of voters that exceeds the minimum number of votes wins the election. Candidates are incentivized to find a base of voters, rather than outdo the opponents in gaining every single possible vote. Candidates with a base can always be sure of winning the election. Candidates with principles and ideas can always find such a base, without compromising their integrity.
1.2. In the current model, the single candidate who wins the election is expected to address the wide range of issues faced by the constituents. It is very unrealistic to expect any single individual to have a grasp of every single issue, much less the ability to address them. In the new model, there will be multiple MLAs/MPs serving each constituency, and hence the chance of at least one of them having a grasp of any given issue would be three to four times higher, which means more issues will get the required attention.
1.3. Many voters, in the current model, abstain from voting, as they feel that their vote will go 'waste', because they fear that their chosen candidate will not win. In the new model, the majority of the voters will have a three to four times higher chance of seeing their candidate win, because of the minimum-votes criterion. It will encourage every voter to vote and thus actively participate in the democratic process.
1.4. In the current model, candidates could win an election with just 30% of the voters voting for them, with the rest voting for the other candidates or abstaining from voting altogether. In other words, candidates not acceptable to 70% of the voters could win the election, and hold power over them. This is against the basic spirit of democracy. It should be the other way round and that is what the new model does. In the new model, because of the minimum-votes criterion, the majority of the voters will see a candidate of their choice in power.
1.5. In the current model, it is very difficult for a candidate who is new or independent, or who is more service-oriented rather than politics-oriented, to win an election, because it is difficult for them to get more votes than everyone else. In the new model, they could win an election if they can find a base of enough voters who recognize their leadership, ideas, contributions and sincerity.
1.6. In the current model, just a few votes can make all the difference, pushing a bad leader into power and leaving a good leader by the wayside. This means the constituents have to not only put up with the bad leader, but also lose the benefit of being served by a good leader. In the new model, because of the minimum votes criterion, the chances are that both would get elected. This means that the good leader would also be in power, to counter the bad leader.
1.7. Currently the population distribution among constituencies is not even. Some constituencies have 1.5 to 2 times that of the population of some other constituencies. As a result, one leader in one constituency needs to serve a large number of people, while another leader in another constituency serves only a small number of people. Neither of these situations is desirable. In the current model, this problem would not get corrected until a census is taken and the boundaries of the constituencies are redrawn, which happens very rarely. In the new model, there would be no such need to redraw the boundaries at all. Because of the minimum votes criterion, constituencies with more population will send more leaders into power, and constituencies with less population will send fewer leaders into power. The size of the constituencies does not matter anymore.
1.8. In the current model, the major political parties field only one candidate in the elections, who they think can win over the candidates of all other parties. In the new model, they can field more than one candidate, as more than one candidate could win the election. The parties could even abandon the concept of 'party tickets' and let anyone announce one's candidacy on their own, and let the voters decide whom they favor. This, in a way, also solves the problem of 'lack of internal democracy' in political parties. in political parties.
1.9. In the current model, voters who like the party but not the candidate fielded by the party are in a bind. They have to either vote for a candidate they do not like or vote for a candidate from another party or abstain from voting altogether. In the new model, since a party can field multiple candidates, the voters are likely to find at least one candidate of their party who is acceptable to them. This is also good for the political parties, as it helps them retain all the loyal voters, by not forcing them to vote for the one chosen candidate.
1.10. In the current model, candidates depend heavily on the popularity of the party and the party chief to win the election. As a result, they cannot exercise their individuality in casting their vote on any legislation. They simply tow the party-line, in order to survive politically. In the new model, candidates can form their own base of voters and depend on their base for survival rather than on the party. This allows them to exercise their independence in voting for or against any particular piece of legislation. As a result, legislation will align more with the popular opinion rather than with the parties' opinions. And polarization gives way to plurality in legislation, which is what we want ideally, in a democracy.
1.11. In the current model, a party that gets a few percentage points less in the popular vote may lose as much as ninety percent of the votes. In other words, though both parties may have about the same level of support among the public, one of them could be routed out of power. The new model prevents this problem. With the minimum required votes criteria, both the parties would win seats in proportion to their true support among the public. No party that has almost the same support will not get routed in the election. No party would have the undue advantage of winning a high number of seats. This will promote balance and humility among the parties and will necessitate a healthy collaboration.
Reform 2: Multiple Votes
No wise person will put all his money in one bank, or in one stock, or in one property. Similarly, no voter should put all his/her trust in one leader. No leader is infallible. But, the current election model, by giving only one vote per voter, forces each individual voter to put all his or her trust in only one candidate. And worse, if their chosen candidate does not win, they are forced by the system to put their faith in a leader whom they did not trust to begin with. This is simply wrong. To right this wrong, we propose giving multiple votes, say ten, to each voter. The voter, then, can distribute the ten votes to multiple candidates whom he/she considers to be reasonable. As an example, one voter can give four votes to one candidate and four to another candidate, and the remaining two to a third candidate. Another voter can give all the ten votes to just one candidate. Yet another voter can give two each to five different candidates.
This reform brings the following benefits:
2.1. In the current model, the voters, having only one vote to cast, are forced to pick only one candidate, and reject all the others. What happens if the voter thinks two or three candidates to be reasonable, each bringing their own value to the table? What if the voter does not want to reject all others? Voting for only one candidate feels almost like 'taking sides'. With this change, voters will be able to distribute their votes to multiple candidates and thus support all the worthy candidates. This reduces polarization among the voters to a great degree.
2.2. Many a time, it also happens that a particular voter may have loyalty to a particular political party, but personally favors a virtuous candidate of another political party. In the current model, the voter is forced to choose between the two. With this change, the voters will not have to make such a difficult choice. They can distribute some of their votes to the candidate of their favorite party, and some to their favorite candidate who may belong to a different party. This allows the voters to make a statement that virtues are as important as party affiliations, and no one should win an election just because of one's affiliation to a particular political party.
2.3. The current model is built on the premise that the winning candidate would be able to serve all the constituents in a fair manner. But human nature being what it is, it is difficult for a leader to treat the voters who voted for him/her and the voters who did not, in the same manner. It is difficult even for the voters to approach a leader to whom they did not vote for, for any need. In the new model, because of multiple votes, it is almost certain that at least one of their chosen candidates will win the election, and hence they would have at least one leader whom they can approach legitimately, for any need.
2.4. Earlier, we discussed how the minimum votes criterion makes it easy for new and independent candidates to win the election. This reform makes it even easier for them to win the election. Because voters have multiple votes, they can afford to give a couple of their votes to a new and independent candidate. Voters can 'keep the old as well as try the new' with this reform. This will dramatically increase the chances of new blood flowing into the system, which is essential for the health of the democracy.
Reform 3: Anytime Voting
In the current model, winning candidates are guaranteed power for five years. There are no good mechanisms to hold them accountable during those five years, till the next election. This is simply not right. Any worker in any job in the world gets fired or punished or suspended pretty soon if he/she does not meet expectations or does something wrong. It should be the same for an elected leader also. Hence we propose that we should let the voters withdraw their votes at any time to any leader whose competency or ethics become questionable, and give those votes to a different or a new candidate. In other words, we propose that we should let voters redistribute their votes at any time as they feel necessary and abolish the system of once-in-five-years elections.
Anytime vote redistribution can be implemented by taking advantage of the advances in information technology. We propose setting up a centralized computer system to manage the list of voters, the list of candidates, and the distribution of votes, and the vote-counts for each candidate. The votes of the individual voters should be kept confidential in this system, like banks keep the balances and transactions of each customer a secret. This system should publish up-to-date vote-count of each and every single registered candidate every single day.
We propose setting up 'election offices' all over the country that are open round the year, like all the other government offices do, to facilitate the redistribution of votes by the voters anywhere and at any time. Or, alternatively, 'vote redistribution' services can be added to the existing e-seva centers or registrar offices or post offices, which are already spread all over the country and which are open all through the year. In addition, the vote redistribution process also can be facilitated through a Mobile App, with which even the need to go to election offices can be obviated, just as Mobile Banking Apps obviate the need to go to Bank offices for most of the services.
In this new model, as there will be no elections, there will be no 'nomination process' either. Rather, any qualified individual can register oneself as a candidate with the election commission at any time. He/she can then go ahead and build a base of voters from among the electorate. The candidate would become an MLA/MP whenever his/her vote-count exceeds the minimum required votes. Similarly, whenever one's vote-count falls below the minimum votes mark, one will cease to be an MLA/MP, and would automatically become a candidate again.
To prevent voters from impulsively redistributing their votes too frequently, we propose imposing a three-month delay between two successive redistributions of the votes. A voter has to wait for at least three months before he/she can redistribute his/her votes again, since the last time he/she distributed his/her votes. This would also reduce the workload on the election offices and on the computer systems. In practice, voters will redistribute their votes anyway only once in a while, such as when they become unhappy with a leader, or when they find a new and promising leader appearing on the scene.
Because of anytime vote redistribution, a candidate's vote-count may cross the minimum votes mark one day and fall below it the very next day. This fluctuation can put one in power one day and remove one from the power the next day. Such fluctuation is obviously not desirable. We can address this by imposing another three-month limit: a candidate will come to power only if his/her vote-count stays above the minimum vote-count for three months continuously. Similarly, a leader in power will lose his/her position only if his/her vote-count stays below the minimum vote-count for three months continuously.
This reform will bring several benefits, as follows:
3.1. In the current model, the atmosphere gets highly charged with allegations, counter-allegations, skirmishes, and so on, as the election day approaches. The judgment of the voters gets impaired because of this commotion. They could even vote against their own best interest, swayed by such emotion. And then, they have to live with their decision for five years. With this reform, the voters can take as much time as they need before they redistribute their votes. If they make a mistake, or if they come to know some new information, good or bad, about a candidate, they can redistribute their votes after three months. This model improves the quality of voters' judgment multiple times.
3.2. The elections, in the current model, are like a gamble for every candidate. Incumbent is never sure about winning the next election. This propels them to 'make hay while the sun shines'. And those who are not in power sling mud on those who are, to discredit them. In the new model, good leaders who consistently can keep the trust of the voters, who strive to adjust their behavior and improve their performance according to the voter's expectations, will be able to stay in power continuously for a long time, without having to go through a very expensive and uncertain process of reelection every five years.
3.3. In the current model, the 'election season' causes disruption to public life in big and small ways for almost six months to a year. With the new model, there will be no elections and hence no such disruption to public life.
3.4. In the current model, the 'election season' places a heavy workload on the election machinery once every few years but leaves it idle for long periods in between. It is common to see resources being drawn from other branches of government during the election season, disrupting their normal function. In the new model, with the vote redistribution happening all year round, the workload on these offices gets distributed evenly throughout the year, like it is in any other Government department. There will be no need to draw additional resources from any other department.
3.5. In the current model, anyone who turns eighteen is eligible to vote. But if someone turns eighteen right after the day of the election, he/she has to wait till the next election, i.e., till the age of twenty-three, to exercise his/her right to vote. In the new model, there will be no such delay for eligible voters. As soon as one turns eighteen, one can register oneself as a voter at an election office, and distribute one's votes to the candidates of one's choice on the same day.
3.6. In the current model, people who are away from home have to disrupt their work or business or a pleasure trip or pilgrimage, to come back to their home polling station on the election day to cast their vote. In the new model, there are no polling stations or election dates. Voters can redistribute their votes at their leisure and can do so from any place at any time, as all the election offices are open all year round and connected to the same central computer system. It is similar to people going to ATMs in any part of the country to perform banking transactions. A Mobile App makes things even simpler.
3.7. In the current model, we do not have a good solution for Indian citizens who happen to be abroad for various reasons at the time of elections, to vote. This reform solves that problem also. The vote redistribution services can be added to all consulates abroad, along with all other consular services, who can connect to the same central computer system.
3.8. If an MLA/MP switches his/her affiliation from one political party to the other, should he/she lose his/her position? There has been much debate, constitutional provisions and amendments, and supreme court rulings on this question, but without a satisfactory resolution. The new model answers this question elegantly, by letting the voters decide whether the switch is done for the right reasons or wrong reasons. If the voters feel that the switch is done for the wrong reasons, they can simply withdraw their votes to the particular leader.
3.9. In the current model, many government programs and initiatives come to an abrupt end or meet with uncertainty every five years, because of the possibility of change in the governments. Investments made till then could go to waste. This is a loss of national resources and impedes national progress. With 'any time voting', there would be no such abrupt change of governments and hence no abrupt end to any program. Every program will take its natural course, either to evolve into something better and bigger or to peter out.
3.10. In the current model, the elections have to be postponed, if a natural disaster such as an earthquake, tsunami, floods, or pandemic, hits at that time. All the preparations and the expense involved in conducting the elections would then go to waste. There would be no such problems in the new model, as there are no elections as we know now. Also, in the current model, if the elections are postponed because of natural disaster, the incumbent leadership would have to stay in power for more weeks or months, beyond their elected term. In the new model, there is no concept of the 'elected term' and hence leadership staying in power for more weeks or months becomes a moot point. A leader stays in power only as long as he/she enjoys the minimum vote-count.
3.11. In the current model, voters have to resort to media posts, on-line petitions, street demonstrations and protests to express their displeasure or disapproval of the actions of leaders and to call for their resignation. This leads to violence and disruption of life, both for the protestors and for the general public. In the end, the protesters run out of energy and the protests die down. Plus, organizing such protests and demonstrations is not easy and hence actually most of the misdeeds of the leaders and the governments go unchallenged. In the new model, there is no need for any of such ineffective petitions, demonstrations, protests, or violence. Voters can simply and immediately remove the leaders who are paying a deaf ear to their concerns from power by redistributing their votes to other or new leaders.
3.12. In the current model, there is no good mechanism for the leaders to gain feedback on their performance from the voters. Opinion polls, approval ratings, etc., are neither reliable nor conducted regularly. Whereas in the new model, the changes in the vote-count serve as instant feedback to the leaders about their performance. Even if the vote-count falls below the minimum required votes, a leader would have three months time to regain the trust of the voters and get his/her vote-count above the minimum required votes.
3.13. In the current model, there is no good mechanism to recall leaders who are falling below expectation either from the performance or from the ethics perspective. Whereas in the new model, the recall process is built-in. Any voter can withdraw his/her votes to the candidate at any time. If the vote-count of an MLA/MP falls below the minimum required, he/she will lose the power automatically.
3.14. With this reform, with no elections as we know now, there would be no need to worry about one voter casting multiple votes or about that ink-mark on the index finger. Voters can be uniquely identified by the election offices with a unique Voter Identification Card or with the Aadhar card.
Reform 4: No Constituencies
In the current model, voters can vote only for the candidates contesting from their own constituency. In the new model, we propose that voters should be able to distribute their votes to any candidate from any constituency. Or equally, we can completely get rid of the concept of constituencies and let the candidate register with the election office without reference to any specific constituency and let the voters distribute their votes to candidates from any part of the state or nation.
This reform will bring several benefits, as follows:
4.1. Suppose there is a leader who is passionate about addressing the issues of a specific population segment, such as disabled people, which is spread over all the constituencies. In the current model, he/she would not win an election, no matter which constituency he/she contests from, because the votes of one such population segment would be very small. The same problem will be faced by candidates passionate about addressing issues specific to any other population segment such as teachers, businessmen, doctors, weavers, traders, software engineers, farmers, transportation workers, and so on. Leaders passionate about issues of certain population segments are thus left by the wayside in the current model. In the new model, all the disabled voters from all constituencies, for example, can distribute some of their votes to candidates who are passionate about solving their problems. That will help the leader gain the minimum required votes and get into power. For example, today, there is hardly any leader in power who is conversant with all the issues of the farmers. There is no leader who takes a long-term perspective about the issues of the farmers. They only try to exploit the needs and stoke the emotions of the farmers to win the elections. This is very sad and is not what should be expected in a democracy. This reform helps experts in every field, rather than just the career politicians, to come into power.
4.2. Consider the situation, where there is a bill that is good for the state/nation as a whole, but requires a certain sacrifice from the constituency. What is an MLA/MP supposed to do in that situation, in the current model? The Constitution assumes that the MLA/MP would focus on the interests of the state/nation as a whole. But the voters assume that the MLA/MP would focus on the interests of the constituency. These two contradictory assumptions put any conscientious MLA/MP in a bind. In the current model, most MLAs and MPs align with the voters' assumptions, which results in regionalism, which is not desirable. By removing the concept of constituencies, we make this a moot point. Every leader, by virtue of gaining votes from across the state/nation will be viewed as a state/national level leader, and would be expected to focus on state/national level issues. The local issues should be and will be, anyway, addressed by local bodies like the Zilla Parishads, municipal corporations, and the panchayat boards.
4.3. In the current model, small, poor and powerless communities hardly have any representation. To address this, in the current model, we reserve certain constituencies for SC, ST women candidates. This is not a good solution because, neither can the leader legitimately represent the majority communities of the specific constituency, nor can he/she represent the minority community which lives in other constituencies. With this reform, minorities everywhere can elect leaders of their choice and the leaders can represent the minority community from all over the state/nation.
4.4. This reform also helps voters who have an organic connection with more than one state or region. Examples of such voters are those who happened to grow up in one state, but happened to live in a different state because of marriage or job or business. In the new model, they can distribute some of their votes to the candidates hailing from their native place and some to the candidates hailing from their place of work or business or marriage.
4.5. In the current model, a candidate is allowed to contest from two constituencies, and if he/she wins both, he/she has to resign from one of the constituencies and a bye-election needs to be conducted. With this reform, there will be no constituencies, and hence someone contesting from more than one constituency becomes a moot point. Voters from two or more regions of the state/nation can vote for the same candidate if they so wish.
It is not necessary for these reforms to be implemented all at once. They can be implemented one by one, in the sequence described above, if preferred. Each reform makes democracy that much better by itself and lays the foundation for the subsequent reforms.
The first reform of 'Minimum Votes', which itself brings almost half of the intended benefits of the Plava model, is extremely easy to implement. All that needs to be done is, with the stroke of a pen, change the winning criteria from maximum votes to minimum votes. No other election process or infrastructure or organizational changes are needed for implementing this reform.
The second, third and fourth reforms, are better implemented together, after establishing a centralized computer system. With the enormous strides India made in the last couple of decades in information technology, and with the success in implementing electronic banking, Aadhaar card system and so on, India is certainly ready to implement similar information system infrastructure for elections.
The reforms can be first tried in one or two states and then can be implemented throughout the country at the state level and at the national level if desired.
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These reforms, which we present here at length, are not as complicated as they may sound from the voter’s point of view. Neither the voters nor the candidates need to know all the details of the new model in order to adapt to it, just as a driver of a car need not know all the parts and engineering of the car in order to drive it.
All that the voters have to know is that they can go to any election office or use a Mobile App at any time to distribute or redistribute their votes to all the candidates they consider worthy.
All that the candidates have to know is that they can register with the election commission at any time, and get the minimum number of votes to get into power, and keep them to stay in power. The described benefits will automatically follow, by virtue of the process.
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India should implement these reforms and derive the described benefits of the Plava model as soon as possible. There should come a time when other democracies also adopt the Plava model, following their success in India.
Initial draft: January 26, 2021
Last updated: July 15, 2021
Permanent link to this article: socialreform.info/articles/50
Mathematician by education, Information Systems Architect by profession, and Philosopher by nature.