They say every vote counts, but mine wasn’t

April 29, 2014

(Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

Fifty-four percent of Bangalore‘s eligible voters showed up at the polls on April 17, a disappointing number considering the high turnout in some states. I was not among them, but it was not for lack of trying. Despite doing everything correctly, my application never went through.

I was 18 the last time India held national elections. Since then, we moved around a lot. I was looking forward to voting this year for the first time. A record number of people are registered to vote in this election, and the country is at a crossroads as it considers whether to kick out the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty and its Congress party in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party and prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi, or perhaps a third front of other parties.

I was eager to include my voice in the nation’s decision. I filled out the forms and gave copies to volunteers in the Reuters Bangalore newsroom who submitted the applications to the Election Commission. Voters’ names are supposed to appear on the electoral rolls six weeks after submission. The deadline for applications to reach the Election Commission was March 16. Voting day in the state of Karnataka where I live was April 17. I checked my application status online on April 15 and saw that it was still “under process”.

I called the Electoral Registration Officer that day to ask why I wasn’t registered yet. An officer there told me to call my ward office to confirm that it went through because it might not necessarily reflect online. I asked an official at my local area ward office what was happening. He said that if the Election Commission hadn’t processed my application yet, it was probably too late for me to vote. When I asked why this happened, he said that it could be because Election Commission officials either lost my application or didn’t have time to process it. At that point, another worker there said that I should go home and wait for the voting slips that the commission distributes 48 hours before polling. If I didn’t get it, then it was too bad for me.

I do not know how many people encountered the same problem, but I know that I am not the only one in Bangalore. Meanwhile, in other cities, including Pune and Mumbai, people found that their names were missing.

Yashas Mitta, a Bangalore-based executive at design firm Creativeland Asia, saw that his name was not on the list. His mother’s name was, but someone had voted in her place. “When I asked the officials, they told me that they had received the list of people who had registered before January. Anybody who registered after that didn’t find their names on the list. And this is funny because the registration was open until March.”

Ankit Baphna, a 33-year-old IT consultant in Bangalore, also did not find his name on the list. His local ward office wasn’t helpful. The Bangalore Bruhat Mahanagara Palike, or Bangalore municipal corporation, told him, “you can vote in next elections,” Baphna wrote in a Facebook post.

Amulya Nagaraj, a former Reuters reporter who lives in southern Bangalore, found her name struck from the list. “When I asked the reason, they said that these kinds of things happen, that sometimes names are removed from the list,” she said.

What could explain the failure to register eligible voters who followed all the rules? Anil Kumar Jha, Karnataka’s chief electoral officer, said that people can complain to electoral registration officers who work for the Election Commission, but that they should have thought to register to vote earlier. “We have been advertising since October. If people suddenly wake up few days before the deadline, they cannot expect their names on the list. Applications received after January will be processed only in June-July”.

When I pointed out that the deadline was March 16 and asked Jha why there apparently was an invisible deadline before the stated deadline, he clarified his remark.

“We have cleared 10 lakh (1 million) applications after January. From May 2013, we have added 2.6 million new voters,” Jha said. “If someone applies just a few days before deadline, it is difficult to include that name, but we try our best to accommodate them. If I get specific details of cases where name has not been included, we’ll inquire into the matter.”

P.G. Bhat, coordinator of NGO Smart Vote, a group that examines voting trends in India, said the confusion over missing names was because of outdated methods of processing the applications. He said that thousands of names were deleted from the list because of software errors.

I have been pointing out the discrepancies and shortfalls of the software to the CEO and the BBMP officials since the last four years, and even offering my help to rectify them, but all the CEO tells me is that he knows exactly what the problems are and how to solve them,” Bhat said.

To be fair, there has never been an election as large as this one: 815 million voters, 930,000 polling stations and 10 million security offers. At a cost of $5 billion, the 10-phase election is the second-most expensive election campaign in history. But if it’s true that every vote counts, it would have been good to be counted this time.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan. Follow Ratnika on Twitter @RatnikaS and Robert @bobbymacreportsThis article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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