Election Commission of India (ECI) website has a wealth of data and information. At the website, ECI has published various documents with guidelines, procedures, and rules pertaining to maintenance of electoral rolls and conduct of elections. Several handbooks further elaborate responsibilities and authorities of officials – highest to the lowest – involved in maintaining the electoral rolls and in the conduct of elections. Chief Electoral Officers (CEO) of states and UTs have hyperlinked such documents from their own websites.
Home page of the State Election Commission (SEC), Karnataka, website states, “The State Election Commission, is a constitutional body… with an objective of superintendence, direction and control over the preperation [sic] of electoral rolls and conduct of all elections to the Urban and Rural local bodies…”
However, SEC website neither gives rules and guidelines nor refers to practices of ECI/CEO. It is left for the convenience of the SEC to misconduct the elections. Other than the office of the SEC, officials working for the CEO and the SEC (District Electoral Officers, Electoral Registration Officers, and their staff) are the same. All the new voter registrations, deletions and corrections appear in CEO’s Electoral Roll Management System (ERMS) from which SEC borrows data.
Strangely and unfortunately, practices followed by the same authorities during the conduct of BBMP Elections have been worse than what they were during assembly and parliament elections. There were cases when EROs refused to register citizens above 24 years of age. Refusing to issue acknowledgements for applications has been an old practice, which continued this year too.
In this post, let me highlight 3 major lapses.
- Inclusion of About 5 Lakh New Names Just Five Days Prior To Elections
MUNICIPAL CORPORATION ACT 1976 RELATING TO ELECTIONS hyperlinked at SEC website states, “electoral roll… shall not include any amendment, transposition, inclusion or deletion of entry made after the last date for making nomination for the election…”
SEC Press Note for the BBMP Elections 2015 showed 10 Aug 2015 as the last date for nomination. In a blog post I discussed how about 5 lakh voters were added to the electoral rolls and about 60,000 deleted after 17th August forenoon, which could be on the evening of 17th or on the morning of 18th – a week after the last date allowed for such changes.
- Large Booths Affecting Voter Turnout%
Since June 2014 I have met Secretary, SEC, thrice and explained quality issues in electoral rolls. We specifically discussed that:
- As per ECI guidelines, urban booths should not have more than 1,400 voters. From data published by several CEOs, we see a correlation between reducing turnout% and increase of booth size beyond a threshold.
- Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) cannot register more than 2,000 votes. If a booth has more than 2,000 voters and has only one EVM, we would deny citizens’ voting rights by design.
During the BBMP elections held on 22 August:
- 1,145 booths (17%) of 6,734 had more than 1,400 voters.
- 38 booths had more than 2,000 voters.
Though I have been writing to authorities for more than one year about the adverse effect of large booth sizes as indicated by the data published by various CEOs, there has been no action. In response to an RTI about this problem in Delhi after the last assembly elections there, ECI stated, “The commission has not received any complaint about any case of disenfranchisement on account of the number of electors attached to a polling station being large.” ECI does not seem to care if their guidelines are not respected. They do not want to look at the evidences indicating flaws in the practices. Denial of reality lets the organisation remain inactive on quality issues.
- Large Number of Additions and Deletions
ERO Handbook published by ECI states, “82. Polling Station wise abnormal additions and deletions over the last 3 years should be identified and carefully field verified and where needed corrective measures should be taken. Abnormal increase or decrease shall be reported to the Commission in prescribed format.” Elsewhere, ECI has stated that additions in excess of 4% and deletion in excess of 2% should be considered abnormal.
Checking the additions and deletions in the electoral rolls between Jan 2015 and Aug 2015:
- 4523 booths (67%) out of 6734 show more than 4% new voters. The booth with the highest addition count has 114% additions and the next in order has 108% additions.
- 3680 booths (55%) out of 6734 show more than 2% deletions. The booth with the highest deletion count has 61% deletions and the next in order has 30% deletions.
According to Census India report, 41.1% of the Indian population are below 18 years of age. News reports told that BBMP Elections had 73,88,256 voters. This would mean a population of 1,25,25,000 in the BBMP area if every eligible citizen has registered as a voter. Knowing that a large number of young people and migratory population have not registered as voters, the population of BBMP areas should be even higher. Is it?
As per various official statements, the population of BBMP area is about 1 crore. If so, we cannot have more than about 59 lakh voters. Considering that many have not registered, valid voters could be about 55 lakhs. Bloating of electoral rolls continues with every revision. It is a serious concern when 67% of the parts have an abnormal number of additions.
We also have bitter memories of mass deletion of about 13.5 lakh voters in 2012. When ECI and CEO did not respond to repeated feedback, we approached High Court, Karnataka, with a PIL. The Chief Justice then gave a ruling indicating that those deletions were illegal. We still have a large number of deletions. Are they done with due diligence?
The SEC is Basking in Silence
When I called the SEC office many times, neither he nor the Secretary was available to discuss. PAs made false promises that they would call back. Mails do not get responses.
Conveniently, Feedback link on SEC website is not hyperlinked anywhere!