The idea of "One Nation One Election" (ONOE) has generated a lot of discussion and interest in India's political sphere, particularly with the recent release of the committee report[1] chaired by the former President of India, Ram Nath Kovind. The main thrust of the proposal is to hold simultaneous elections for all state legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha, in order to decrease the number of polls and establish a single electoral cycle. ONOE proponents contend that this kind of change could reduce administrative expenses, lessen the disruptive effects of protracted election cycles on governance, and free up legislators to concentrate more on development agendas rather than being preoccupied with never-ending campaigning. The plan, however, also has a lot of obstacles and detractors, with questions like whether it can be implemented constitutionally, how it would affect federalism, and how different political parties and stakeholders will need to agree on it. While the country is still debating on the benefits and drawbacks of ONOE, the conversation around this idea highlights how difficult it is to strike a balance between democratic ideals and the necessity of an efficient government.

Concept of Simultaneous Elections

The Constitution of India through Article 324 empowers the election commission to hold elections for the office of President, Vice President, Parliament, and State Legislatures, with a five-year term each. Every citizen of the nation meeting the eligibility requirements through Universal Adult Franchise must directly participate in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections[2]. While Gram Panchayats, Municipalities, and Municipal Corporations comprise India's third tier of government, elections for these positions are handled by the state election commission. The reason for the potential exclusion of the third level of government can also be said to be the enormous requirement it demands with more than 3 million representatives that are in need to be elected.

Therefore, in the context of India, a simultaneous election is one in which all State Legislative Assembly elections and the Lok Sabha election are held on the same day in a synchronised manner. That implies voters should cast their ballots in both elections on the same day and at the same location. It does not imply that all of the voting should take place on the same day. In other words, elections for a specific constituency ought to take place on the same day.

Historical Background

To affirm the ground, the concept has been a topic of discussion and debate in Indian politics for several decades now, which is further ensconced by history.

1951-52: Simultaneous elections were introduced with the inaugural General Elections to the Lok Sabha and all State Legislative Assemblies conducted concurrently.

1957, 1962, 1967: The process persisted through subsequent General Elections.

1968-1969: The continuity was disrupted due to the premature dissolution of some Legislative Assemblies.

1970: The Lok Sabha itself was dissolved prematurely, leading to fresh elections in 1971. Until this point, only the first three Lok Sabhas completed full five-year terms under the simultaneous election cycle.

1971-1980: Almost 14 states had elections conducted multiple times, with Odisha alone having elections four times during this period.

1999: The Law Commission of India, in its One Hundred Seventieth Report recommended to reduce the administrative burden and enhance governance efficiency.

2015: The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice echoed this sentiment in its 79th report[3].

Need for Reforms

The frequent occurrence of elections in India poses significant challenges to effective governance. With elections taking place approximately five-six times in a year, the nation's economy experiences strain due to the extensive mobilisation of manpower required. As per Election Commission of India (ECI), the 2014 Lok Sabha election incurred approximately Rs. 3,870 crores[4]in expenses. In 2019, it increased by 40%, reaching a staggering Rs. 50,000 Crores.

Furthermore, utilizing government machinery for elections pulls capable officers away from developmental tasks. As per a report by NITI Aayog[6], during the 2014 Lok Sabha election, 10 million personnel were employed by the Election Commission.

As per the recommendations, the potential benefits of ONOE seem manifold as holding simultaneous elections in India will directly increase financial efficiency. It shall empower state governments by providing them with equal footing alongside the central government. This reinforcement of federalism could help mitigate disruptions during election periods, ensuring a seamless continuation of essential services without compromising on electoral integrity. The other add-on advantages include the mitigation of disruption, prevention of populist politics, promotion of national unity, reduction in defections, government stability, and minimization of security deployment.

Committee’s[7] Recent Recommendations

The HLC, was constituted in September 2023, to delve into the issue, subsequent to which it proposed several recommendations regarding the synchronization of elections at various levels of government.

One of the central proposals suggests amending the Constitution to facilitate simultaneous elections in two phases. Initially, the focus would be on conducting elections for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies concurrently, without requiring ratification by the states for the constitutional amendment. Subsequently, elections for municipalities and panchayats would be synchronized with those for the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies, ensuring that local body elections occur within 100 days of national and state-level elections. However, this synchronization process would necessitate ratification by at least half of the states.

In the event of a hung house or scenarios like a vote of no confidence, the committee recommends conducting fresh elections to constitute the new Lok Sabha or state Assembly for the remainder of the House's term.

Also, integrating local body elections to national elections would also be far more complicated and difficult. The reason for this is that local administration is a State subject (seventh schedule, List II), and each State Legislature has established its own Panchayati Raj Acts and Municipal Acts, which respectively stipulate the five-year term of these organizations under Article 243(E) and 243(U). Since each State has its own unique Acts, it would be necessary to amend 56 sets of laws in order to enact modifications.

To enable the practical implementation of these proposals, several amendments to the Constitution have been suggested, for instance, amendments to Article 83 and Article 172 dealing with the duration of the Lok Sabha and State Legislatures respectively. Addition of Article 82A empowering Parliament to legislate municipal and panchayat elections simultaneously with general elections, without requiring state ratification. Amendments to Article 325, Article 327 and Article 328, proposing a single electoral roll for all elections, and to clarify and extend Parliament's authority over simultaneous elections for both Lok Sabha and State Legislatures.

These amendments, as per Article 368, would require ratification by at least half of the State Legislatures, in addition to the support of a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament.

Additionally, the recommendations hammer on the importance of meticulous logistical planning to ensure the smooth execution of synchronized elections. A comprehensive plan is advised for the deployment of manpower, polling personnel, and security forces, along with the necessary electronic voting machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs).

Concerns and Challenges

Although the idea of holding simultaneous elections has found many supportive voices, there have also been numerous critics on account of its do-ability and its implication on voting behaviour. The problem becomes even more complex due to the different provisions in the constitution regarding the dissolution of the houses, which leave the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies with unknown terms.

The major concerns are the constitutional amendments and federalism as it undermines the autonomy of the states. Moreover, logistical complexities, financial implications, and procurement challenges arise, with approximately 30 lakh EVMs requiring replacement every 15 years[8]costing nearly 9,284 crores. Additionally, simultaneous elections may overshadow local and regional issues impacting potential voters and their representation.

International Framework

The international framework of ONOE witnesses diverse legislative structures and electoral systems across various countries. For instance, in South Africa, elections occur at three tiers - National Assembly, Provincial Legislature, and Municipal Councils - with a 5-year term. Sweden follows a 4-year electoral cycle for General, County Council, and Municipal Council elections, employing proportional representation. Belgium conducts elections for multiple institutions every five years, including the European Parliament, Federal Parliament, and regional legislatures. Germany's electoral system, established in 1949, employs a unique "constructive vote of no-confidence," ensuring stability by requiring a replacement agreement for the Chancellor.

Therefore, while simultaneous elections offer potential benefits, their realization necessitates thorough consideration of legal, logistical, and constitutional factors to ensure practicality and effectiveness within the Indian political framework. Going beyond the positives and the negatives, implementing a strategic concept like ONOE comes with its own set of drawbacks. But when they are juxtaposed, which one weighs down the other is interesting to observe, in order to implement it in the world’s largest democracy.

[8] nd_State_Legislative_Assemblies.pdf

Author Siddharth Shankar Dubey is an Advocate practising in the Allahabad High Court, Lucknow Bench and Co-Author Naman Yadav is a student at RMLNLU.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents of the article.