Karnataka Legislative Assembly elections are just a year away, and it’s time for residents in Bengaluru to register themselves in the electoral rolls. In Mahadevapura Legislative Assembly Constituency that is home to a large number of migrant population in the Information Technology and other sectors, it’s a huge challenge to get people registered in electoral rolls and make them vote in elections.
Citizens in Whitefield and surrounding areas in Mahadevapura have come up with an initiative to fix this problem. Million Voter Rising, a campaign by Whitefield Rising, aims at enrolling at least one lakh voters to the electoral rolls in Mahadevapura constituency mainly in and around Whitefield, before the election.
Launched in September 2016, the campaign pushes nonvoters to get themselves registered in the electoral rolls. It also encourages them to cast their votes in the upcoming election, to ensure that they have a say in the city’s affairs.
Realising the power of being a voter
The citizen activists from Whitefield Rising were doing a lot of collaboration with the government to get works on roads, infrastructure, lakes and solid waste management done in Whitefield area. During the interactions with people, they found that the elected representatives were not responding to people.
Then, during the BBMP election in 2015, people realised they can influence the elected representatives, only if they are perceived as voters. Politicians would respond respectfully to voters of that area, because they had the power to determine the election outcome. That is when a few of the Whitefield Rising members decided to follow the model of block voting or group voting which normally happens in villages.
We were successful to some extent in encouraging group voting. The communities from Whitefield evaluated the candidates, took the evaluation by others such as BPAC, via endorsements, and encouraged voters to vote for a candidate who had better credentials. As a result, the candidates whom these communities supported during elections were responsive to their problems after they were elected.
It helped the community have a say in the local governance. What started like this, got developed into a campaign called Million Voter Rising. Now the campaign aims to do voter registration and awareness in a big way for the assembly election.
Chief Election Commissioner takes note
Volunteers of Million Voter Rising campaign have learnt a lesson or two from their previous experience. A lot of people who had filed application for voter roll registration, were not successful in getting their names registered prior to the City Corporation election.
The members of Whitefield Rising then approached the Chief Election Commissioner of Karnataka. They explained him how there was a delay in processing the application and how the applications were simply rejected by the revenue officers.
Following this, the CEO took the BBMP officials who handle voter registration to task. He called for a meeting of the Deputy Election Officer and revenue officers and gave them a set of instructions on how not to harass citizens.
Apartment voters sidelined?
But this time around – in 2017, the volunteers are pursuing the electoral roll registration process well in advance, to ensure that none of the applications get rejected or delayed unnecessarily. The electoral registration officers do not take those living in apartments seriously. They consider them as outsiders who are here today and gone tomorrow, hence there isn’t any serious need to consider them in voter registration process.
This attitude shows up in many ways. There have been efforts by political party workers to slow down the processing of applications or not register the voters. It is being seen as an attempt to stop people from voting.
There are examples of a few people getting voter id cards in 10 days of registering and submitting documents. There are also cases of a batch of 130 applications not getting processed even after four months. After constant efforts from the volunteers, the officials have registered about 73 out of this batch, but haven’t offered any explanation or information about the applications not processed, even after 180 days of wait, after application.
This was against the Election Commission guidelines and commitment given to volunteers, by Bengaluru Urban Deputy Commissioner in his office in a meeting in front of all the ERO and AEROs. The acceptable delay was, three days to receive the hard copy and 30 days to process it.
‘20% of people in Mahadevapura are unregistered’
Despite all these concerns and issues, the campaign is going on. Volunteers are reaching out to the tech-savvy population in Mahadevapura who have access to internet, through emails, Facebook and Twitter.
More than 100 communities have signed up to register just in Mahadevapura Assembly. Communities from other constituencies are asking Whitefield rising volunteers how to be a part of the campaign. Overall, about 940 people have been successfully registered since January 2017.
While reaching out to the communities and RWAs, the campaigners suggest a list of to-do things. It involves knowing the Revenue Officer and Assistant Revenue Officer who is in-charge of approving or rejecting the applications, tax inspectors who handle verification and mapping this information in each area.
According to the statistics available, which is acknowledged by the State Election Commission, around 20 per cent of the population in Mahadevapura is unregistered which is close to 1.5 lakh people. Apart from registering them, the other challenge is to convince the remaining registered population of which 50 per cent who have not voted in the last election, to vote this time.
The process of electoral roll registration
The first step in the voter registration process is to submit the application online. One should mandatorily file online application by visiting http://voterreg.kar.nic.in/ and fill up Form 6 for inclusion.
The online process is quite easy. Once registered, the voter will automatically get an acknowledgement number using which he/she can track the application any time.
Then one needs to find the RO or ARO in the local BBMP office. He is the person in-charge of approving the application. He has to come to the community to verify that the voter lives in the given address.
Overcoming gated community restrictions
However, during the campaigners interaction with the CEO (Karnataka), the volunteers found out that one of the challenges that the officers faced while registering apartment residents was the verification process. When the officers come to visit the applicant, they were often not let inside the apartments for security reasons or non-availability of the applicant at home during their visit.
To solve this issue, the volunteers now organise camps for voter registration. They get minimum of 50 people to fill up the online application, then make an appointment with the tax inspector or BLO to visit them for verification. An email is sent to the community head informing that the officer will visit the apartment on a particular day for verification. Due to this, the officials can visit 100-200 people at a time.
This apart, the campaigners believe the best solution is to outsource the voter registration process to a third party like the post office. Volunteers have found several glitches in the voter registration software and have brought them to the attention of the DC Urban, DEO and CEO.
Thus, with a campaign like the Million Voter Rising emulated across the city, there is hope for the urban voter to get involved and vote in the election, as well as participate in solving local issues.
Based on inputs from the Million Voter Rising team.