During the Lok Sabha elections held earlier this year, urban areas of Pune district registered only 49.83 per cent voter turnout. Will it improve this time?
It will certainly improve. Although it’s difficult to say by how much it will go up, but my expectation is that it should go up by 10 per cent over the Lok Sabha turnout. I’m saying this because of various efforts that we have taken and active campaigns that we have implemented in the last few weeks to ensure that more people come out of their houses and vote. We did not just rely on traditional methods to raise awareness such as through advertisements and billboards. We launched an aggressive, multi-pronged campaign.
For the first time, we have advertised names and addresses of voting centres that have been moved. We have geotagged voting centres to make it easier for voters to reach them on voting day. Another step was to set up a call centre to resolve issues faced by voters. Here too, instead of waiting for citizens to call, we are calling them and asking them if they are facing problems with the voting plan. So far, we have reached 8,000 randomly selected voters to understand their issues so that we can arrange for solutions before voting day.
As compared to the last few elections, this time the fear of EVMs (electronic voting machines) being hacked is not as palpable. No one seems to be raising this issue anymore…
This is because we have brought in the VVPAT (voter verifiable paper audit trail) system and the fact that not a single mismatch was reported between VVPAT and EVM voting count. Candidates and political parties now know that hacking an EVM is not possible because we counted VVPAT chits in front of them to show that there was no mismatch. This prolonged the counting process in some constituencies but it bolstered the confidence of political parties in the election system. They saw that there can’t be human intervention in the process. Also, we held rigorous training sessions for our staff members to ensure that the voting process does not encounter any glitch.
Compared to Lok Sabha polls, the cVIGIL application launched by the Election Commission has received fewer complaints from Pune district in the run-up to Assembly polls. The number of complaints during Lok Sabha polls was 1,129 while it is only about 200 now. Why is that?
Increased awareness among enforcing teams about the kind of complaints raised by citizens using the cVIGIL application could be a reason. Hence, even before complaints were raised, issues such as covering of billboards, etc, were taken care of, resulting in fewer grievances. However, what’s important about the cVIGIL app is that it has proven quite successful in keeping our flying squads and surveillance teams on their toes. As in cVIGIL system, the control room at the district election office continuously monitors the movement of squads; they have to continuously remain on the move. This is the biggest contribution of the cVIGIL app in enforcing the model code of conduct.
How successful has been the initiative to move all polling booths to the ground floor to make the voting process more convenient and hassle-free for senior citizens and the differently-abled?
We have 7,915 polling stations in Pune district, of which 1,011 booths were on the second and third floors during the the Lok Sabha polls.
With an aim to make the polling process accessible and hassle-free, we started taking active efforts to move these stations to ground floors, especially in buildings without elevators. This time, we have moved 877 out of 1,011 booths on upper floors to the ground floor, of which 283 booths are temporary sheds. The remaining 134 are on upper floors of the buildings but accessible by elevators.