Bengaluru's low voter turnout problem: Citizen apathy or incorrect electoral rolls?

Bengaluru has recorded a low voter turnout in past elections despite an otherwise active citizenry.
Bengaluru's low voter turnout problem: Citizen apathy or incorrect electoral rolls?
Bengaluru's low voter turnout problem: Citizen apathy or incorrect electoral rolls?

On paper, Bengaluru records the lowest voter turnout in the entire state. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the three seats in the city only saw a 54% turnout. In 2009, the turnout was 58.81%. The trend is consistent for Assembly Elections too. In the 2013 Assembly Elections, 57.38% of the eligible voters in Bengaluru cast their votes, as against the state’s overall voter turnout of 71.29%

Political observers are of the opinion that the otherwise active citizenry does not relate to parties, which in turn reflects the low participation.

But activists on the ground disagree. They claim that due to ‘mysterious circumstances’ many eligible voters are left out of the electoral roll. Sometimes new applications are rejected on farcical grounds or with no clarification at all. And this has been happening for years now, they claim.

The final voter turnout, activists argue, is not reflective of the general sentiment of citizens as the electoral roll contains bogus voters and does not include many eligible voters.

Srinivas Alavilli of Citizens of Bengaluru, a citizens’ collective, said, “The figure for voter turnout is not correct. Voter turnout is a factor of how good the voter lists are.”

Harish S, who used to be a voter in the Gandhinagar had recently moved to KR Puram and subsequently applied to be a voter in his current constituency around six months ago.

“But since then the national voter services portal is only showing the status as submitted. I had called the Karnataka State Election Commission helpline regarding this and they asked me to email them. Till now I am yet to receive a reply,” Harish said.

Harish is not alone, activists are apprehensive that with Assembly Elections fast approaching, many eligible voters will be left out of the final electoral roll.

Whitefield, which is part of Mahadevapura constituency, has seen a high number of voter ID application omissions.

The Whitefield Rising, an active citizen group has been communicating with the EC including the CEO of Karnataka Election Commission regarding the same. But so far, the response has been less than satisfactory, they say. According to WR, close to 9,000 eligible voters are missing on the list from Whitefield alone.

Prestige Shantiniketan, a gated apartment complex, has 58 such applicants who were rejected without explanation as mandated by the Registration of Electors Rules, 1960.

WR has also petitioned the Karnataka High Court regarding the same.  Anjali Saini, WR said, "The CEO of Karnataka Election Commission  carried out an audit on Tuesday and conceded some of the points that are highlighted in the PIL which they are not admitting in the court. They are arbitarily rejecting and not following the process laid by ECI. Another problem is the data in the Karnataka EC website and NVSP are not synchronised."

Who is responsible for this?

According to PG Bhat, who has been scrutinising electoral rolls for years in India, the Election Commission is to blame for its apathy and lack of accountability.

“At least in Karnataka, EC is all about propaganda. They just spend a lot of money in the campaign but the campaign is only an advisory, there is no real action. If you go to apply or point any discrepancy they will discourage you,” said the electoral roll analyst.

Similarly, political parties are also responsible, he said, “At the EC, political parties have a special status. They can go and plead with the EC. But we don't see any political party taking up the issue. I have met all the MLAs and few MPs of Bengaluru asking for help. They all say that they will but in practice, not one politician has come out. This is the story for the past eight years.”

He said the situation in Whitefield is not very different from other parts of the city but it is out in the open only because WR has been very active with their ‘MIllion Voter Campaign’ for the last two years.

“Data shows the number of new applications varies slightly across the city. The only difference is how the EROs (Electoral Registration Officers) or citizen bodies/ RWAs are active. This is the EC's job but they are not doing that. There are supposed to be Booth Level Officers for all the 8,000 plus booths. But they exist only on paper. This is fake information on the Karnataka Election Commission website,” added Bhat.

According to latest data, 28.18% of all online applications and 8.55% of all offline applications have been rejected in Bengaluru. 

"Karnataka from the start are discouraging online applications. I myself suggest people don't apply online. They don't even sometimes touch them and reject them in bulk," he said. "The reason is simple apathy, they think they are not accountable. It is not there is workload or any complications, it is just that they do not want to do it. In quality and completeness, Bengaluru electoral rolls are arguably the worst after analysing 13 states/ UTs," Bhat said.

“When they reject, they are supposed to give reasons. Ideally, they should fill in something called Form 12 and they should send it to the applicants giving them an opportunity to appeal,” he explained.

He added that the age-old problems of dubious voters still remain. "From January 2017 to October 2017, there has been at least 2000 plus duplicate entries." He also pointed out how many voters have their booth number changed but the same is not informed to them.

Further explaining the low voter turnout he said, "Sometimes there will be people whose gender will be changed and they won't be allowed to cast their vote."

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