Are Bengalureans lazy, or is the electoral system broken? Experts point to the latter.

 Are people of Bengaluru really not getting out to votePTI/Representational Image
news Karnataka 2018 Sunday, May 20, 2018 - 14:16

As Karnataka went to poll on May 12, Rajendar, a voter from Shivajinagar constituency in Bengaluru, was in a heated conversation with an officer at his polling booth. He and his family of five had registered to vote in the assembly elections and were directed to the St Anne's Convent on Miller's road. But when Rajendar came to vote at his polling centre that afternoon, he found only his name on the list.

"I applied with all the relevant documents for my family in the BBMP office in Vasant Nagar. We thought the electoral slips will come to our address, but they didn't. There was no point checking the website because it hasn't been working for four days. They are now telling us to go to every polling booth in the constituency and check if the other names are there. How will I take my 76-year-old mother from one booth to another now?" the businessman asked angrily.

"The entire process is completely disorganised. I will try for another hour, if I don't get the right information, why should I bother to vote?" he asks, before walking away agitated.

Rajendar's plight is just one example of how several Bengaluru residents struggled on polling day to exercise their fundamental right.

As polling percentage figure started rolling in on May 12, the city faced the familiar rebuke for not being responsible enough to get out and vote. Bengaluru (Urban) constituency recorded a dismal polling percentage of 54.72%, a drop from the 57.38% that it recorded in 2013, sparking immense criticism. But experts and analysts tell TNM that this annual accusation of poor voter turnout is not entirely valid. 

Inflated numbers?

PG Bhat, a retired naval officer and software professional who has conducted elaborate studies on the electoral process, says that the problem begins from the very size of the voter list.

According to the Election Commission, there are over 91 lakh voters in Bengaluru. But this figure, says PG Bhat, is highly inflated.

"According to the 2011 census, 41.1% of the population is below 18. If EC is saying that there are 91 lakh people on our electoral list, then the total population would come up to 15,449,915. But in January 2018, District Electoral Officer, Bangalore, (Commissioner, BBMP) published District Plan 2018. The document gives various statistics for the 28 assembly constituencies of Bangalore and states that the projected population for the election year is 13,111,500," he explains.

"Going by BBMP projections, I have estimated the actual number of voters in Bengaluru to be around 70 lakh given the number of omissions. So, if you say that the voter percentage is about 54%, then that is 47-48 lakh out of 91 lakh voters. But if the actual number is 70 lakh voters, then 48 lakh is an extremely good voter turnout," he says. Going by his estimation, the actual turn-out in Bengaluru could be 68.5%. Bhat says that he has written to the election commission about the bloated figures and told them that is was a ‘matter of shame’ to get the number of voters wrong.

"But I have received no response," he says.

According to PG Bhat, the number of suspected duplicates within Bengaluru - not including people whose names are also there outside the state or other parts of Karnataka - is more than 1.5 lakh.

Registration woes

There are also allegations that the voter enrolment software used by the election commission is of poor quality and basic integrity is missing in the data.

"Many people who thought they did not get onto the rolls in their previous attempt registered again. Some people registered on the CEC site, and some on NVSP site, and some on both. Sometimes the online sites did not display the status properly so they would go and give physical copies to register," says Meera K, Co-founder and editor of Citizen Matters.

"None of these applications were sorted and synchronised in the back end. In fact, the databases of the two sites were out of sync," she adds.

This meant that several people could not find their names on electoral rolls in their constituency and left their booths disappointed. In some cases, voters did not receive their voting slips from the election commission, leading to further confusion about where their booth was and whether they were registered for the election.

"The problem is that when EC-appointed volunteers go to people's homes to give the slips or help them register, there was no one at home. People had stepped out for work," a Booth Level Officer tells TNM on the condition of anonymity. "There needs to be some arrangement made that will ensure that the process is convenient for voters and volunteers," the officer adds.

"There are also several people who have either moved out or died. These changes have not reflected on the electoral roll," says Meera.

"There are enough reasons to discourage the voters as it is," says PG Bhat. "And after all this, they come out to vote and there is the emotional blackmailing that the Bengalureans are no good. It is criminal to even make such an accusation," he adds.


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