Ever since the state Election Commission opened up the voter registration for the summary revision earlier this month, the system has been besieged with problems.
With the online registration system available this time too, many citizens opted to submit their applications online. As on November 29th, 2,10,020 citizens registered and 1,40,325 submitted their applications online. Many citizens who registered could not submit their forms successfully.
Some of them had registered during the earlier window in June, and complain that their application status still says, "Under process".
A bunch of assembly constituencies, part of Batch I and II was open for registration till October 31st and November 29th. For the Batch III Assembly Constituencies including 28 constituencies within BBMP limits, applications for inclusion and corrections were from 5th November and close on 4th December 2012.
On 28th, the online system stopped working saying "Portal closed". Volunteers from Smart Vote and other citizens raised this issue with the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Suranjana. This was subsequently fixed.
There were other errors faced by applicants, with cryptic messages like "Invalid string format" or "please enter a valid mobile number" . The latter message comes if you give initials in the name field while registering as a new user. (Reported by Arbind Gupta).
Says Bharani Ramakrishnan, a citizen from Bellandur ward, "after filling the form and after submitting it, I get a page that says ‘No applications’ and hence not able to generate acknowledgement". This error was forwarded to the CEO’s email id, but there was no response.
Many applicants tried to figure out the best way of getting the system to accept the uploaded forms, even trying it from different networks and different browsers!
The tool has many flaws, including design issues and implementation issues. There is also a lot of carelessness for e.g. the senders name for the emails from Election Commission is "Test"! In the Form 6 application for new voter, the instructions are for downloading a PDF, but there is no download option. There is only the option to generate an acknowledgement, and that is also not a PDF. PDF stands for the popular portable document format is helpful for printing.
Once you download the acknowledgement, which is nothing but two copies of the form 6 just submitted, there is no clear indication which form is for what. According to the CEO, the software was developed by CMC with the help of Microsoft. CMC is the former public sector Computer Maintenance Corporation of India, later acquired by TCS in 2001, during the privatisation drive.
Meeting identified major problems
On November 27th, Dr. Alok Shukla, Deputy Election Commissioner, Election Commission of India, New Delhi, chaired a meeting held at the office of Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka (CEO), with the CEO, BBMP Commissioner and DEOs of various districts of Karnataka. Maj Gen. Prasad and Uma Shankar of Janaagraha, an NGO and Cdr PG Bhat and Nitin Jagtap of Smart Vote, an NGO were also present.
In the meeting, Bhat explained his findings in the electoral rolls of 27 constituencies of Bangalore District. He pointed out the deletion of about 13 lakh voters from the rolls in the period of April to November 2012. Sample surveys have shown lack of diligence and violation of rules in this action. He is also raised the issue of the CEO’s website being unstable, unfriendly and unreliable. Many links on the site do not work. The Helpline 1950, advertised by CEO, has not been set up till date. The responses provided by the landline helpdesk 2266 0000 are not helpful.
Bhat raised the issue of the CEO’s office not following data standards mandated by the Central Election Commission. Voter lists do not follow any naming conventions, making de-duplication more difficult. A few voter lists are not published, and some published ones are incomplete.
Several other issues were pointed out in the meeting. Large number of voter records have numerous errors. Several fields are blank in thousands of records. Wrong house address, sex, age, and relationship information abound. Thousands of voters are aged below 18 and hundreds above 120.
The lists have tens of thousands of duplicate records. House addresses are incomplete and inadequate in most cases. Suspiciously large number of voters is found in thousands of houses – up to 724 members in a house. Similarly lakhs of houses have only one voter each.
Election Commission directives not followed?
Directives from Deputy Election Commissioner Shukla issued directives to the Chief Electoral Officer C S Suranjana to send voter slips to every voter with Form 8 to correct errors, if any, in the voter data, as well as to every deleted voter in the current address; if the voter is found in the address, undelete and restore his record. If photograph of the voter is missing, obtain photograph.
Shukla also asked the state election commission to fix problems including assigning an EPIC number to each voter in the correct format, removing duplicate entries and correct all the existing errors in the electoral rolls with a plan and target date. The CEO should ensure validation of data and employ more people if required.
For Murugendra Chigateri, an applicant, it took dozens of tries before he managed to submit the form successfully from his office location. However, many other citizens are still finding it a problem to register. On November 30th, after three days of struggle, Bharani Ramakrishnan has given up and says he plans to submit Form 6 manually.
Citizen Matters asked Suranjana on the problems citizens are facing with online registration. He says, "The only issue with online registration was that the server was down for a day. On that day, we got many mails from the public, and the site was up soon." He says they have not come across other complaints such as data not being submitted or acknowledgement forms not being generated.
With just a few days to go for this window to close, will the CEO extend the deadline of December 4th? Deputy CEO Kulkarni P T says no decision has been taken yet. The CEO clarifies that only the ECI at the centre can take the decision. He says, "In the meeting with Deputy EC this week, some organisations had raised this demand. He has said that he will consider it."