The case of the phantom voter
As voting in the Lok Sabha elections continues, serious concerns over major errors in voter lists are making their way into headlines. The lakhs of voters in Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune who were denied the right to cast their vote, the 15 Nagaland polling stations with a voter turnout over 100 per cent and allegations that over 25,000 residents of Tamil Nadu were illegally enrolled as voters in Bangalore Rural, have led to the realisation that there may be a serious lack of due process in the maintenance of India’s voter lists.
Janaagraha, a not-for-profit organisation based in Bangalore, has been working on the issue of voter lists for the past 10 years after a pilot in two Bangalore assembly constituencies (ACs) revealed that close to half of the names in the voter list were erroneous and required deletion, either because the voter had died, shifted or could not be found. A subsequent study conducted before the 2013 Delhi assembly elections revealed that this is not just a Bangalore problem. Janaagraha’s Delhi study showed that close to 20 per cent of the names that appear on Delhi’s voter lists had serious errors, implying that 23 lakh of the 1.23 crore registered voters needed to be removed. Importantly, this study was conducted after the Election Commission (EC) deleted 14 lakh names.
Current headlines reinforce that proper and continuous maintenance of the voter list is a national issue that can no longer be neglected. Poor quality of voter lists has a direct impact on the quality of Indian democracy itself due to potential disenfranchisement, fraud and impact on electoral outcomes. The two principal issues in the quality of voter lists are undeleted errors and mass additions made in a short timeframe close to elections.
The issue of mass additions is clearly evident when comparing the change in the voter list of Bangalore Urban between the 2008 assembly elections to the 2014 Lok Sabha vote. Between the 2008 and 2013 assembly elections, taking into account all additions and deletions, the total number of voters was reduced by a mere 80,683. At the same time, between the 2013 assembly elections and 2014 parliamentary elections, the total number of registered voters increased by 5,29,995 in barely nine months! It is worth questioning how the Bangalore list swelled by over five lakh, given that the population would have hardly grown during this period.
Bulk additions such as these create massive obstacles to ensuring due process, as in cities, particularly at the critical time of elections, the EC does not have its own machinery to rely on, but uses the state machinery (for example, teachers and postal workers), who are also tasked with full-time non-election duties. For continued…