A Voter in a Haystack

“Do you know where is my …” asks my daughter in a panic just before leaving home in the morning. Whatever it is, she can’t find her stuff – it could be hall ticket before an examination or learner’s licence before going to take driving test. My wife and I run around the house searching for the lost item. Sometimes it is right under the nose, other times lost forever. She does not like it if we organise her room, which is always in a mess. It is even tougher for some to find things in an organised place. Of course, it is the responsibility of the parents to find the things their children misplace.

In some homes, it is the husband asking the wife, “where is my mobile phone, my wallet, my driving licence, tax papers, insurance policy …” “Why don’t we have a policy that you be organised and take care of your things and I mine?” retorts the wife. We know where this discussion leads. Some high pitched accusing, some tears, at times “your daughter has inherited this habit from you …” As this mostly occurs before the couple leaves for work in the morning, they live with some residue of bitterness through the day.

“Where am I?” should ask the Chief Electorate Officer of Karnataka about his presence in the Assembly Constituency. At we start with the first information we have – the name of the CEO. “min 3 char ex:vin” says the site. Starting with the full name ‘Suranjan,’ I reduce to 3 characters in Bangalore district. No luck. I find dozens of Suranjans, who are either too young or too old to be our Suranjan.

On 19 June a tech savvy expert deputy of the CEO, in the presence of ten people, searches for the real Suranjan in CEO’S website. Other deputies help him with suggestions. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not find the person hidden in the lists his organisation has created for public consumption. “The name certainly is in the list,” says the CEO.

The name is in the list. Friends of the CEO, like me, can find it with some effort. Some would term this kind of search as ‘research.’ To get his voter record, if you do not know enough about him (as entered in the list, which often does not match with reality), you search among 6,785 PDF files. Mercifully the PDF files are searchable unlike several MLC voter lists which are image files and cannot be searched. ->  -> -> AC1720199.pdf, page 20, first row, second column, has the record.

The CEO’s men gave up the search after about 15 minutes’ effort. What are the chances of a citizen on the street finding a voter record in the list?

The CEO asked for suggestions to improve the search. Talking technology, if the search query is written as – like ‘%sur%’ instead of like ‘sur%’ as it is now written, we would have found the name. The IT specialist of CEO argued that such a query would return thousands of results and is not user friendly. Yes. If we search for ‘sur’ occurring anywhere in the name among the 2,11,202 voters of BTM Layout constituency, we get 2,035 records. Then, we know a little more about the person. If we enter ‘suranjan’ we get only 6 results. Hope that the IT specialist can identify one real Suranjan among 6. If we enter ‘suranjana’ we are reduced to 2 records. There are more ways to filter – by age, father’s name, etc.

With a false negative response to a query, we assume that the name does not exist in the list. Instead if we get even a thousand names, we can quickly narrow down by providing more information.

 The simple change in query would take a minute to implement. The CEO agreed on 19 June that the change should be made. Eleven days have gone by. I am not surprised that the changes have not been effected. Decision making in important offices is like mating of elephants. It happens at very high places with lot of grunts and trumpets. Then it takes 22 months to see results. Well, blatant errors in voter lists, pointed out in early 2010, are not corrected till today. It takes longer than the gestation period of elephants to act on small things.

“If 30% of people vote and one of them wins with 12% of that, both the quality of the representation and the legitimacy of governance will suffer,” says CEC. When the voter list is of higher quality, and system makes it easier to find information, voter turnout has been better in the past. The politicians and officials find it convenient to blame on ‘voter apathy.’ Who creates this apathy?

36,867 views of a talk on time management by Randy Pausch may fade compared with 14,930,135 views (at this moment) of his last lecture. However, in his talk on time management, he makes a very important point – by keeping personal documents organised and finding them when needed, he had eliminated most of the reasons for quarrel with his wife.

If the EC keeps voter information better organised, make information available when needed, the CEC will find less opportunities to complain about voter apathy. It is easier to discover errors and omissions if the information is better organised and transparent

Bangalore had several pay-and-park locations. A Mayor made it his one point agenda to remove parking fees. An interviewer asked him about the loss of revenue. The Mayor said, “our revenues will increase because people pay heftier fines for wrong parking [with the chaos we create.]” If the electoral roll is messy, it is easier to manipulate and some people  gain from it.

Accessibility is one issue. Data quality is even a more serious issue. The image of sign board represents the quality of our electoral rolls.

“If you haven’t got time to do it right, you don’t have time to do it wrong.” Randy Pausch.

About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
This entry was posted in eGovernance, Social Issue. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Voter in a Haystack

  1. JS says:

    Well said, PG. Your work on voter lists is yeoman service to the community of activists. Keep it up!


    • pgbhat says:

      Thanks, JS. Let us find some people from the EC who can help us. A faster and less strenuous approach is to work with the system. What we are currently doing is an attempt to wake them up.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. JS says:

    Reblogged this on Oh My India and commented:
    The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) can’t find his own name in the voters list! What hope doe we Aam Admi have?!


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