Missing from voters’ list, whom to blame?

The festival of democracy - phrase coined to mark exercising of votes by the Election Commission of India- is over in Karnataka. Till the next elections, laissez-faire would prevail, with no “serious” attempt to overhaul the prevailing chaos that seems to have become more evident with this round of elections given the furore raised regarding deletion of hundreds of names. 

Interestingly, those citizens who created hue and cry at the pooling booths have not taken any step to contact the authorities concerned to register complaints or mend matters; very soon they will be resigned to their fate. Officials concerned say that the number of deletions in the voters list that is making rounds is a hype; it would not be possible to delete 1.5 lakh names in Bengaluru. They say that exaggerated claims are only to increase the TRP!

No one is coming out with verifiable proof to prove otherwise. Whatever may be the case, the citizens allege that their “right” to vote has been impaired with. Interestingly, this time, the government machinery is not willing to take the blame; the Election Commission says that the citizens should have taken the initiative to check their names, get corrections done, if any, before the polls. 

There were repeated awareness and public education campaigns made by the Commission through various media to the effect. That rights come with responsibilities is often forgotten. The Election Commission’s reaction points to a paradigm shift in exercising franchise shifted to the citizens. But then, are the citizens, who show apathy towards voting, mature and accountable enough to dawn this role?

Post-Karnataka Assembly elections, voter’s list was revised and sufficient awareness was created to verify names within the comforts of one’s home which was taken lackadaisically. This is not surprising as most citizens consider casting vote as a favour they do to the country, little realising the link of votes to good governance.

How well has a government performed is non-quantifiable and incomparable, as before and after real time data are lacking. The manifestos brought out at the time of elections could have been “proof” to assess achievements systematically but then how many of us see the manifesto, understand and vote?

The officials of the election branch point to citizens running from pillar to post when their self-interest is at stake for - registering property, getting ration card etc. Not even a minuscule of this interest is reflected in the electoral processes. Those citizens who point to deletion of their names from the list say that they had applied to for a change in address, correction in spelling by submitting the EPIC card/s but this was of no avail.

But then, they neither received an acknowledgement nor did they insist on getting one, as they would in most
other transactions. Those who allege non-efficiency in the system - usually urbanites - forget that those whose names are enlisted have been indifferent to cast their vote. Low urban voter turnout is a bane at all elections, though this time there has been an increase of 3-4%. But this is less than that of rural votes which shows 5-6% increase. 

The urban voter needs to understand that balloting is not a simple process of getting marked with indelible ink. It requires putting in place huge machinery which implements the model code of conduct, prepares and conducts polling, mustering, de-mustering etc.

All of this requires financial and human resources which impinge on the exchequer. One view is that if the Commission discloses per person expenditure that is incurred, it may motivate some to vote. The Electoral Wing is short staffed and depends on Booth Level Officers, anganwadi workers and school teachers who
update voters list. At the grass-roots, it is these human resources who are assigned multiple jobs, are overworked and answerable to multiple bosses.

They are under equipped, both in terms of knowledge and skills, to take up necessary action and responsibility in revising the voters list. The scrutiny by higher ups is a myth due to high numbers for example, in Mysuru, there are four staff to deal with around 800 polling booths. Political party representatives who could have scrutinised the draft list and helped in preparing a robust final one spend their energies in blame game when things go amiss.

Summary revision

Presently, summary revision is in vogue. The Booth Level Officer is attached to a polling station and the voters are required to approach and verify the details. The experienced electoral officers say that it is time an intensive revision is done; tweaking the list prepared around 20 years ago will not yield the desired results.

The Legislative Assembly List - the mother of all lists- needs to be intensively revised; otherwise the trend seen now will be reflected in the forthcoming local urban and rural body elections too. Electoral reforms, making it friendly by opening up postal ballot for migrants and such other measures, have to be implemented to ensure the slogan ‘No Voter to be left behind’ becomes a reality.

(The writer is a freelance consultant working on development issues)

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