Inside the Election Commission

Metrolife takes you to an office preparing to get 5.03 crore people in Karnataka to vote.

The Karnataka Chief Electoral office is located on Seshadri Road, near Maharani’s College, in Bengaluru.

The office of the Chief Electoral Officer, near Maharani’s College, couldn’t be busier. 

With elections in Karnataka slated for April 18 and 23, an infectious buzz pervades the colonial-era building. 

Officials are talking in huddles; some are peering into their desktops and laptops. Nobody has the time to look up and say ‘hello’ to visitors, but they made time for Metrolife.

Results of the 17th Lok Sabha elections will be announced on May 23.

3 lakh civilian staff and 1 lakh cops have to be trained: CEO

Sanjiv Kumar, chief electoral officer (CEO) of Karnataka, is aware of how election officials have to keep their eyes and ears open all the time. He describes what happens behind the scenes.


Chief Election Officer Sanjiv Kumar is from Jharkhand.

How much in advance does work begin for the general elections?

We work through nine months and our work peaks during the elections. The most difficult part is the preparation of electoral rolls for a little over five crore and three lakh voters. It may look simple but it is cumbersome. The Election Commission is only in Bengaluru and Delhi.

We depend on the state government and its organisations. In the urban areas, the BBMP is our representative for registration.

How often is the electoral roll revised?

There is a special summary revision of electoral rolls in October. But I don’t think people are aware of this. They are under the notion that once their names are on the electoral list, and they have an Epic card, it is permanent. But that is not so. People have to start checking the list from October or November and be alert to spot their names in the draft roll.

How do you deal with names going missing?

We don’t have mass deletion or summary deletion of names. Because during a special summary revision in October, the booth-level officers go from house to house and carry out voter verification. It is only after a thorough verification with families of registered voters---even those who are dead---that the names deleted. We take help of Form 7, which the family signs for this purpose.

What are the challenges you face at this time?

Elections are a challenge because of the time constraints and the proportions. In Karnataka alone, we have 58,200 polling stations, 5.03 crore voters, three lakh civilian employees and one lakh police personnel on duty. These numbers are staggering. Everybody needs to be trained to be aware of the rules and regulations. We ensure the logistics are in place so we have a smooth run on polling day.

What is your motto this time?

Our motto is inclusive, accessible and ethical elections. By inclusive, we mean everyone eligible to vote must participate in the electoral process. We reach out to people well in advance. We encourage them to go online and register. Even residents who move to other cities for study or work can vote. Providing access to all, especially the physically disabled, is our priority.

Tell us about the voter helpline.

The helpline 1950 was only at the state level, now it is uniform across the state and country. The capacity will be increased depending on the nature of complaints and queries coming in.

How many new voters this year?

We have 8.5 lakh.

What is your message to voters?

Anybody above 18 years is eligible to vote.

So make sure you register. In any democracy, voting rights are the most sacrosanct. If you don’t vote, you are not discharging your constitutional duties.

Wheelchairs and more

The Election Commission maps voters with disability at each booth. This year, it is providing vehicles, wheelchairs, magnifying glasses and sign interpreters to help them vote.

Rs 100 cr seized last time

Money and muscle power are the election officials’ biggest concerns. During the last election, the Election Commission seized almost Rs 100 crore in cash, 5.08 crore litres of liquor, jewellery worth Rs 40 crore, and home appliances worth Rs 24 crore.

Your election commissioner is a painter

Sanjiv Kumar completed his schooling from Jharkhand from a government Hindi-medium school. He later went to Delhi University.
He is a self-taught multi-media artist and enjoys painting nature and people. One of his paintings features three women in prayer. “One of them is deep in prayer. This shows she has faith, another is physically in prayer but her mind is elsewhere, and the third is neither physically or mentally present,” he says. For him, painting is “a form of meditation.” Kumar is a fitness freak and clocks at least 10,000 steps a day. “Now, because of election work, my routine has gone for a toss but my day is incomplete without an hour of brisk walking,” he says.

Citizen vigilance app

The Election Commission already has its checkposts and bomb squads on duty. This year, it has introduced what it calls the C Vigil or Citizen Vigil.

If citizens come across violence or inducement to get election work done, they can capture it on their mobile phones and send it to a Jio-enabled application which transfers the information to the district control room.

A mobile squad will rush to the spot in 15 minutes and enforce the rules. The Election Commission in Karnataka has 1,303 flying squads, 1,837 static surveillance teams, 320 excise teams, 180 commercial tax officers, 50 transport teams, 694 video surveillance teams, and 331 video viewing teams.

 

Officer who handles voter rolls, candidate nominations

K N Ramesh, Additional Chief Electoral Officer-3, held several important portfolios before assuming office in the Election Commission seven years ago.


K N Ramesh, additional chief electoral officer.

Ramesh handles electoral rolls, nominations, withdrawals, and ballot papers. “There are online systems and helplines where people can track the status of their voting cards, but I think it is ignorance that keeps them from using what we have,” Ramesh tells Metrolife.

Some people don’t apply for votership till the last minute. “While March 16 is the last date to apply for the first phase of elections, March 25 is the last date to send in applications for the second phase,” he explains. Just having an Epic card does not mean you can cast your vote. “People must compulsorily register and check for their names during the summary revision in October,” he says.

Some candidates wait till the last date. “This happens when they are undecided about contesting or unsure about getting a ticket. In such a case, if anything is factually incorrect it becomes difficult to carry out changes,” he says.

Misleading calls

Some informants have turned into ‘misinformants,’ according to Ramesh. “People sometimes give us misinformation to divert our focus,” he says.

Ramesh likes Dr Raj movies

Ramesh completed his schooling from Vijaya High School and went to Vijaya College. He later joined RV College of Engineering to pursue computer science. He topped there, and went on to study at IIT. In his leisure, Ramesh enjoys watching Dr Rajkumar’s movies and listening to his songs. “His movies always come with a strong message and can be watched by the entire family,” he says.

Ramesh is a motivational speaker who goes to schools and colleges. “I always tell young people nothing is impossible. To reach your goal, you must never compromise on your hard work,” he says. He also teaches maths and science to Class 10 and pre-university students. “I do this whenever I have some time and not for the money,” he says.

 

IT wing has recruits from software companies

The IT wing at the Election Commission office comprises software professionals drawn from IT companies. The team is constantly ideating and streamlining the process. N Raju, 67, has been working in the IT wing for about 15 years.

A technical consultant, he grapples with numerous challenges. “We now have a new software called ERO Net that is uniform across the country. With this, we can track voter rolls,” he says. The IT department has six to eight people working at any point in time. “We have to deal with last-minute registrations. It is tough to segregate and process them,” explains Raju.

Kevin Tony moved to Bengaluru two months ago and joined TCS, which sent him to work on revamping the Election Commission’s website.

“The software codes are difficult to understand. I am in the process of deciphering and reworking them,” he explains.

His family is proud that he is working with the government on such a prestigious project. “My father always wanted me to take up a government job but I was more interested in IT. Now, they are more thrilled than I am,” he says.

Divyashree C is the youngest member of the team. A native of Tumakuru, she is working on ERO Net.“We look into the form processing, inclusion and exclusion of names, and deletions,” she says.

 

 

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Inside the Election Commission

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