Below is a copy of mail I wrote the State Election Commissioner, Karnataka, with copy to the Chief Secretary, Karnataka. I do not expect any action or response, though.
Dear Mr. Sreenivasachary,
Please refer to my mail of 30 Dec 2014 discussing quality issues with electoral rolls published by CEO-KA. Referring to the Assembly/Parliament rolls published by CEO is relevant because his repository is your base.
Since 2009, I have made repeated failed attempts to reach out to your office seeking attention about the poor data quality and data completeness problems with BBMP Electoral roll.
Some latest efforts. When I called your predecessor in Jul 2014, he asked me to meet Secretary, SEC. On 09 Jul 2014 I met Mrs. Honnamba, Secretary, and explained the case. She promised to act on the input and there was no communication for a few weeks after that. When I checked, I was told that she was transferred out.
On 31 Dec 2014 I visited your office with an appointment to meet you. You made me wait for 90 minutes beyond the scheduled time. Then, through your attendant I came to know that you had left your office without the basic courtsey of even greeting me. I did not expect this from a person of your high profile, education, and experience.
Then I met Mr. Kulkarni, Secretary, SEC, and explained the situation, yet again. When I checked later, I was told that he too was transferred out.
For the past one month I have been callilng your office, but am unable to get beyond PAs. Justifiably you and all your officers would be busy in view of impending BBMP Elections.
Today’s news report states that you have found about 35,000 discrepancies in the voter lists. There are lakhs of discrepancies, sir – not just 35,000. This is based on analysis of the base rolls you have taken from CEO-KA. You can refer to my past mails to see some samples.
The rolls you have published are CAPTCHA protected and in image format. They are not amenable to extraction and analysis. This is against the principle and spirit of open data. When CEO-KA caused similar hindrance to access electoral rolls in Jan 2013, CEC had directed him to remove CAPTCHA and publish the rolls in pdf-text format. ECI directives require the rolls to be open documents, in text format. Though you do not come under ECI, the spirit of free and fair elections and access to data by public do not differ between local body elections and those for Assembly and Parliament.
With less than a month for the BBMP Elections, I request some actions from you to make the elections a little more effective.
- Publish electoral rolls in pdf-text format, without CAPTCHA, immediately. This will make electoral rolls searchable and also help to analyse their quality. From well meaning citizens you will get a free service of quality analysis.
- Trust some NGOs and individuals to analyse the quality of electoral rolls and give them database dump of the repository. Mainly check if all the newly registered voters have been included in the rolls.
- Improve Search features for in the electoral rolls with some contextual help. Do not make relative name mandatory because the data is not mandatory in the schema and it is incorrect to make it compulsory during search. Reduce the mandatory fields similar to the implementation at NVSP – National Voters’ Service Portal – http://electoralsearch.in/ .
- Provide a helpline to answer queries related with the elections, similar to CEO helpline 1950.
- Provide a simple facility at your website where voters can give mobile phone number and personal details. In response to this SEC/BBMP can send voter record details of the person by SMS. It is easy to develop such a software. See https://roll.elections.nsw.gov.au/NSWLookUp/nswelectionreminder.aspx as an example. For now, limit features only to get voter data.
- Work with educational institutes. From now till the election day, election process and importance of voting can be discussed in morning assemblies in schools and colleges. When done in snippets, it would not take longer than about 5 minutes a day. When the children talk about this at home, the parents are influenced.
- Some kind of competition can be held for institutes on the above.
- Locate voter facilitation counters at institutes, banks, post offices, hospitals, and such public organisations where people visit. Train small sets of people from each of such organisations on how to bring awareness and motivate people to vote. Display posters with sincere agenda and facilities. This is recommended by ECI, though not practiced by CEOs.
- Media can regularly publish snippets related with elections. One news report and a few criticisms will not help. Effort should be like drip irrigation – small doses, continuous. Media houses can provide some help lines to respond to calls from voters.
I am glad to work with you for this cause, mainly in analysing the data quality issues.