Electoral Rolls Act, 2009

Electoral Rolls Act, 2009 According to available records, an Ordinance was issued in this respect in 1982 (Ordinance No. LXI of 1982). On the basis of this law, electoral rolls were being prepared for the parliamentary elections of 2006. In the process of preparation of the rolls, the total number included stood at 90.13 million up against the total voters of 2001 which stood at about 70.46 million. Such abnormal rise in the number of voters was not in accord with the official rate of annual population growth at 1.46 percent. It met with intense public criticism which was articulated by the media and the civil society.

The need was felt to opt for a computer-run data-base of voters to be updated on yearly basis. Besides, it was also felt necessary to insert photographs of respective voters in the voter rolls and voter identification cards.

To operationalise the above requirements, an ordinance (Electoral Rolls Ordinance No.18 of 2007) was issued by the government. The newly constituted Election Commission set about the task of a computer-based voter list. This Ordinance was repealed by the Awami League led grand alliance elected government with some amendments. Consequently, an Act was passed in the Parliament titled Electoral Rolls Act, 2009 (Act 6 of 2009). The Act saw the light of the day on 24 January, 2009.

The Act has twenty three sections. It repealed an earlier Ordinance titled Electoral Rolls Ordinance, 2007 under which computer-based voter list was prepared for election of 2008. However, it protected all acts done and actions taken under the Ordinance of 1982 as well as of 2007. The objective was to provide continuity of the law and to make it immune from any legal action that might arise.

The Act provides for a more technology-friendly voter list conducive to maintenance of computer-based data for registration of voters and subsequent updating of the said list. The practice followed earlier to the law was to update or amend voter list during the period ranging between the declaration of the date of election and the date of holding the said election to the Parliament and to other elected local bodies. The law departs from this practice, and allows for the amendment of the list at any time in accordance with procedures specified by the law. An important provision relates to updating the computerised data-base every year from 2 to 31 January. This process of updating the list as specified by the law basically involves inclusion of new eligible voters and deletion of names of voters who had died or had become ineligible. The criteria for eligibility and ineligibility are specified in the law. It also involves correction of change of voter's ordinary place of residence. Finally, it is laid down in the law that if the list is not updated in accordance with the specified procedures, it shall not deemed to be invalid or its continuity shall remain unaffected.

The legality of the voter list is further reasserted in the law. It is also laid down that the validity of the voter list shall remain unaffected even if there are incorrect entries or inclusion of ineligible voters. This has been done to avoid any possible legal question.

The Act further empowers the Election Commission in specified areas. These include the authority of the Commission to call for the details of information from any organisation, the authority to frame rules under the Act, ousting the jurisdiction of any court of law to call in question any action relating to the preparation of the voter list, penalty for providing false information including obstruction to the preparation of the list and negligence of duties in the process of preparation of the voter list. Finally, special provisions are made in the Act to hold election in any constituency where the Commission for any reason could not complete the process of preparation of the list. In such cases, the Commission, by notification in the official gazette, can provide for special method of holding such election. [AMM Shawkat Ali]

Bibliography AMM Shawkat Ali, Incredible Voter List, in Prothom Alo, 5 May 2006, Page 1; Bangladesh Gazette (Extraordinary), 24 February 2009.