Mumbai and the state have always seen a low voter turnout. In the 2009 Assembly elections, the city recorded only 46 per cent turnout. Is the EC putting in any effort to improve it this time?
In the Lok Sabha elections, the state touched almost 60 per cent voter turnout. It was a 10 per cent rise compared to last time, which is a good sign. From our side, we have contacted 90 per cent voters in the state, who have been given voter slips for this election. When election officers distribute voter slips, they establish a personal contact and advise residents to vote. At least 30 lakh new voters enrolled after the Lok Sabha elections. Additionally, collectors opened help desks where people could check their names. Banners and posters were put up and advertisements were also given in newspapers to encourage people to vote.
Less than 50 per cent election duty officers opt for postal ballot. Has there been some some sensitisation programme for them?
It is an individual’s choice whether or not to vote. We compulsorily give them forms for postal ballot. But we cannot compel them to vote. Officers are sensitised and told about the importance of voting. This time, collectors have started a system for improved facilitation of postal ballot for officers – pigeon hole system.
Urban areas have a lot of migrant population. Duplication is a big issue as there is no central database. How can this problem be addressed?
I agree that there is no central database. But it is also the voters’ responsibility to inform the returning officer that he or she has shifted. People just make new voter ids after shifting without getting their names deleted from their previous constituency. Last year, we conducted a massive cleaning operation where lakhs of voters – either dead, shifted, or missing – were removed to avoid duplication. But as a result, several voters complained that their names had been deleted. After January 31, we have not deleted any voter.
With the split in alliances and even more party candidates rallying, how difficult has it been to monitor them?
We follow the EC guidelines for every election. Even if we have two or 20 candidates, the process will remain the same. I do not want to comment on the political scenario but the entire process requires huge work force. Keeping the current scenario in mind, we have identified sensitive polling areas and asked for central force to be deployed there.
Has anything new or interesting been implemented for the Assembly polls?
The EC has allotted Voter Verified Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT) in 13 constituencies this time – a first in Assembly elections. Voters in those pockets can re-check whether their vote has been cast to the right person. Apart from that, we will use new electoral voting machines (EVM) in all polling stations. Since it is state elections, we have been told by the EC to use only new machines, that means the ones manufactured after 2006. We have good quality EVMs and so hope that there won’t be any technical glitch.