Voting percentage for Bangalore was 56.47, 55.7 and 55.69 for Bengaluru North, Central and South respectively, while the state average was 67.28%, in parliamentary elections. What does this project? While everybody is cribbing about Bangalore’s voter percentage and “urban voters’ apathy,” it may not be what it looks like.
For example, have you seen anyone around you who did not vote? If not, who are these 44 people out of 100 who did not vote in Bangalore? Don’t you think there is more to the voting percentage story?
In 2010, Citizen Matters had written about the reality behind voter turnout in BBMP elections. The same theory holds good here too. P G Bhat, the voter roll analysis expert, had written about the quality of voter roll this time, just before the elections.
Entries of those who move out not deleted
Anand Yadwad, a citizen who volunteered on the election day, explains his experience. He and his friends checked 430 flats in his apartment complex to make sure that whoever had voter id went out to vote.
However what they found was shocking. Around 40% of the residents did not have voter ids! Most of them did apply for voter IDs, some had applied repeatedly, but to no avail. They were tired of the process. Some didn’t register, as they already had voter ids elsewhere.
Anand also did a quick study of the data for his own block which has 32 flats, out of which only 20 flats had voters.
Out of the other 60% who were on voter rolls, only 50% were genuine. There were 15% ids that were duplicated. 33% of people had moved out and were not in this block anymore, but had their names on the roll. 5% of the voters who were dead were still on voter rolls, while 4% of voters had gone outstation for personal works. The pattern was similar throughout the complex.
Anand points out the exact problems. The reason as he sees it, is not just the apathy of urban dwellers. It is also,
1) Poor voter roll management by BBMP staff
2) Failure of the Election Commission to streamline the voter registration / transfer / updates process for Bangalore
3) Entire machinery has failed to cope up with fast-changing residential status of urban dwellers.
Duplicate entries galore
Girisha B S, a Bangalore Civic Leadership Incubator Programme participant, is also working as Civil Defence sector warden for Division 17. He had a chance to join the election duty in Bangalore North constituency, polling stations 196-199. He observes:
“I noticed that there were so many duplicate entries, wrong entries in the voter list that the denominator used for calculating the percentage itself was wrong. Specifically, in the polling station 199, the list showed 798 entries. But there was as many as 67 duplicate entries. One was actually a triplicate – same person and photo printed thrice! In all, there were only 710 eligible voters in this booth, of which 450 people voted. One can now see the glaring discrepancy between official voting percentage of 56.39 as against real value of 63.38%”
This explains the reality. Girisha also explains the cases of names missing from voter list, because of which many could not vote.
Citizen Matters writer Josephine Joseph says that she found her name twice in voter list, while her husband had his name thrice. This, despite giving the request for deletion of extra EPICs.
‘17.5 lakh entries need scrutiny’
There are many other examples that show duplicate entries in the voter list. However, an example provided by voter roll analysis expert P G Bhat beats them all: When he analysed the voter rolls published on March 26 2014, he found that there were more than 230 entries which closely match in name, relative name, and within two years in age. He could not compare photos of the voters as photo electoral roll isn’t available to all, but he felt these entries require further investigations.
Bhat suspects that, of the 78.4 lakh records in 28 constituencies of Bangalore, 17.5 lakh records need investigation for suspected duplication. He affirms that at least 2 lakh entries would be duplicates. This would mean that the turnout % in reality would be at least 2.5% higher than what is calculated.
Bhat has exposed the massive illegal deletions of voters that took place in 2012, after which he filed a PIL with High Court. The High Court had asked the Election Commission to restore the deleted entries. Election Commission went for a massive re-registration drive after this.
All these mean that the voter turnout is actually better than what is calculated, if the duplicate entries are eliminated. And it could have been even better, if the illegal deletions did not happen.
Not really missing?
P G Bhat has another angle to explore, on why voters might seem missing from the list, after visiting political stalls near voting booths: “Most of them have old version of voter lists, published on 06 Jan 2014. About 6 lakh voters have been added to electoral rolls of Bangalore since then, whose names appear in the lists published on 26 March 2014. When the party representatives do not find the names in their old lists, they tell the citizens that the names are not in the lists though in fact they could be in the current lists.”
Another reason is rationalisation of booths, and the resultant change in booth number. If a person has checked the booth number via SMS or other means in the recent past there will not be any confusion. But, due to non-delivery of voter slips to voters and voters not checking their polling booth in advance, there have been instances of voters going home not being able to find their names on the roll as booth number looked different.
Voter slips not delivered
Bhat also refers to the letter dated 28 Feb 2013 issued by EC, 491/SVEEP/09/2013-KT(EGS), that required CEO-Karnataka to issue voter slips to individual voters during the Assembly Elections in May 2013. This was done only partially. In some areas like Malleshwaram, political party volunteers delivered the voter slips to doorsteps of voters in some areas, while there were many houses which did not receive this, which caused confusion among voters who were not able to find their polling booth.
PG Bhat writes in his blog: “Dakshina Kannada had 76.6% turnout as per news reports. The same CEO, but a different DEO and EROs. CEO-Karnataka is unable to get good work from BBMP staff. The rolls maintained by BBMP have large % of voters who have moved out of station or out of the world. It has about 20% suspected duplicate entries. We can further prove it if we get voter records with photographs.”
A different story of good voter roll
Dakshina Kannada Lok Sabha constituency has had a 77% voter turnout – an amazing turnout among various constituencies of Karnataka. We spoke to Assistant Commissioner for Puttur Subdivision Krishnamurthy H K to check about the quality of voter rolls. Puttur subdivision has almost a rural profile, with not much people coming in, but more of them migrating to other cities.
He says that the duplication of ids found in entire Puttur Assembly constituency was around 25. Even for these duplications, the reasons would be investigated and rectified, he adds. Will the BBMP take a leaf from here?
According to Krishnamurthy, the problem in voter rolls could be because of human error, or the faulty coding of the software. There is no provision for suo motu deletion by the officials. A deletion has to happen by way of filing a form-7. If there is a deletion without form-7, it could be because of the software coding, he concedes.
However he adds that the system cannot be blamed unless the operators are 100% perfect. The software is capable of identifying exact duplicates, but not spelling variations, or extra characters. He says that this time the Election Commission has done an excellent job by identifying 66 types of errors and communicating it to them to ensure error-free voter rolls. Krishnamurthy is happy with the quality of voter rolls in Puttur sub-division.
This brings us to the question: When the voter rolls can be better in some other part of state, with the same CEO and same software, what exactly is wrong with Bangalore?
‘Ask BBMP about the quality of voter rolls’
We spoke to Chief Election Officer of Karnataka Anilkumar Jha about the issue. He strongly refuted P G Bhat’s claims on the quality of software. He said that the software doesn’t have any problem.
If a person’s name is duplicated or deleted, Jha suggests that they go to BBMP Commissioner or the concerned ERO, file an appeal and demand the reason. The BBMP Commissioner is obliged to give a reason for illegal deletions. Election Commission is not responsible for voter roll entries directly, Jha adds.
Further, when there are duplications inside a state, as the data is centralised, the software identifies such problems, according to Jha. However, duplications across various states cannot be identified through the software as the database isn’t shared between states. A form-7 filed in one state cannot delete the voter entry in another state, so if one is migrated from one state to another, he has to file form-7 to get his name deleted from the voter list. Election Commission officials can’t modify anything by themselves, Jha adds.
“We cannot help it if a person shifts from one place to another without deleting the name from original zone. We don’t take strict action on them. According to law, such an act warrants imprisonment upto one year, but we don’t impose it, instead, we try helping people to vote,” Jha explains.
All these are true in theory, but there are many complaints of people filling the old EPIC details in application, (part-4 in form 6) which did not ultimately result in the elimination of old EPIC. However, the Election Commission neither seems to take responsibility for this, nor wants to hold BBMP responsible.
What is the way forward?
Elections may seem to be over for now — but no, we have the Big Battle for Bangalore, the great BBMP Council Election, in 2015! Even though Karnataka’s half-completed decentralisation process has left more power in the hands of MLAs than councillors for Bengaluru, the latter are still the “go-to” people for local problems such as roads, potholes, water, traffic issues, waste handling etc., and are also more acccessible. The council and the BBMP do run some affairs in city, so this election is very important.
Last time the voter turnout for BBMP election was a mere 45%. This time, the awareness among people on the role of a corporator is widespread, and the need for better corporators has also been felt across the city. All this awareness also has to be supplemented by an improved voter roll, if more people have to participate in the elections.
This time, however, the situation looks optimistic. NGOs and forums like SmartVote, BPAC, CAF and Praja have decided to plunge in to help improve Bengaluru’s voter rolls. Citizen Matters has learnt reliably that meetings will be held in this regard soon.
There are also ways in which the problem can be rectified: The Booth Level Agents from all parties (INC, BJP, JD(S)) will have the photo-voter list of those who voted, and those who did not too. This data is also present with the Election Commission. This data is a good starting point to study and eliminate duplicate entries and correct other errors, provided BBMP is willing to take it up.
If a reforming process can improve voter roll quality, future elections will be held on a ground better than now, to give an accurate voting percentage, rather than blaming stereotypical “apathy of urban voters” while the problem actually lies elsewhere.