Six reasons why Bengaluru’s voter roll lacks quality

 

Despite several measures taken, as claimed by the Chief Electoral Officer – Karnataka, to avoid errors in the electoral rolls, it seems the attempts have not yielded in a foolproof result.

Like every year, there are glaring errors found in the final electoral roll published on CEO-KA website in the first week of this month, and the error pattern is almost repetition of the previous years. Complaints, suggestions and requests by various forums and active citizens for the improved electoral rolls, perhaps, seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Though BBMP election is only a few months away, it appears that the hue and cry over errors in electoral rolls will not see light of the day in a near future.

A glance at the electoral rolls of 28 constituencies in Bengaluru will only support the fact. P G Bhat, a retired naval officer and an activist, who, as always, analysed the voter rolls, has many interesting observations on the quality of the voter roll.

Voter id cards with no numbers

Compared to the summary rolls of last three seasons, there has been no much improvement in the new rolls. If the number of blank EPICs in the recent summary rolls is as high as 84,783, the number of EPICs with bad format is 10,221. The total number of blank EPICs in October 2014 was 85,260, whereas it was 1,02,918 in March 2014.

Let alone the blank EPICs, to one’s astonishment, Bengaluru is abode for 23 voters who are above the age of 120! That is not the end. The electoral roll has 1,44,695 names with ‘late’ as prefix to the names. Probably a mistakenly attached prefix which could be a clerical error. The number of such cases in the electoral roll in October 2014 was 1,41,144, and now increased by 3000.

Going by the date of birth details, there are numerous instances where the parent of the voter is older by just 13 years, mother is older by less than 19 years, which is most unlikely to happen in an era where child marriages in the city are illegal. If at all it is true, it points to just another flaw in our society where women are made to bear children before they are 20.

The total number of cases where the parent is older by less than 13 years is 14,085. In over 2,000 cases, the name of the voter and the relative (father or husband) is the same as the voter. While calculating the duplicate voter sets, it easily points at 15 per cent of the total electoral rolls.

Quality of PDF files

The poor quality of PDF files of electoral rolls has not been improved even after repeated complaints. A glance at the electoral roll and you will find over 1,500 instances of unreadable records with jumbled data. In several pages, the records are overwritten making it difficult to read and identify the names of the voters and relatives. As many as 1,197 voter records are virtually deleted by modification. In 296 cases out of them, even the EPIC number is changed.

Despite the claim made by the electoral officers to minimise EPIC duplication, it has not been successful. As many as 2,713 EPICs are duplicate ones.

Booths with more voters than it can handle

The CEO-KA has also defied the clause mentioned in Election Registration Officer Handbook, published by ECI in 2012 which states “the commission has however, with voter’s convenience in mind, has desired that a part should not have more than 1,200 electors in urban area and 1,000 electors in rural area.” This directive is to ensure convenience to voters and thereby improve the voter turnout.

But in reality, an analysis of booths published by CEO-KA shows that 53 booths of Bengaluru have more than 1,400 voters and 2 booths have more than 2,000 voters.

Inappropriate BLO list

Yet another issue is the information pertaining to the Booth Level Officers. The CEO-KA website has published the list of BLOs of Bengaluru South and Central, whereas the details of BLOs of Bengaluru North and Urban have not been published yet.

Citizen Matters randomly made calls to a few BEOs to examine if the numbers exist. In several cases the numbers given in the list were either wrong or the number did not exist. In a few cases, the designation of the BLO was not filled and in some (for ex: Shanthinagar Assembly Constituency), the phone number was not displayed.

Voter roll analyst P G Bhat complains that despite bringing the issues to notice of the CEO-KA and other concerned authorities to rectify the error every year, the advices have not been taken positively. “When I informed about it prior the Loksabha election, I was told that there was no time to rectify errors as the election was going to commence shortly. But, now even after the polls, they have not rectified the errors,” he observes.

Why the errors?

The process of summary revision of electoral rolls began in September 2014 as per the Election Commission of India’s directive. Accordingly, BLOs are supposed to verify and scrutinise the voter list by visiting houses, collecting voters data and produced it to the designated officers.

The designated officers hold electoral registration camps in the booths to include names, delete entries in the roll, correct entries pertaining to name, address etc and transfer the booths. The revised list is then submitted to the ERO or tahsildar who will have the right to approve the list. The list will be then submitted to a private agency which will upload the information to the software and prepare the draft electoral roll. This is the standard process.

Here are reasons why the errors crept in:

  1. The draft electoral roll was published in the CEO-KA website from October 15, 2014 to November 10 calling for filing claims and objections. However, majority of the voters did not pay attention towards verifying their names in the draft electoral roll and filing objections. This has a share in recurring of errors.
  2. As the updation process happens in a short span where a large number of data is pooled and uploaded to the software at once, it leads to errors.
  3. Speaking to this reporter, Shobha, BLO in Rajarajeshwari Nagar constituency said: “Many a times the voters while filling the form fill it inappropriately which also contributes for the errors in electoral roll. They do not even inform while shifting their home to another constituency and we delete their names if they aren’t at the home for consecutive two or three times.”
  4. A BLO, on the condition of anonymity, blamed the data entry operators of making errors while uploading information in the computer. “Even after repeatedly submitting orrect information to them, they tend to ignore our effort,” he said. Errors in personal information, EPIC number with bad format and many other errors occur when data entry operators feed the information on computer. Pressure to feed excess data in a stipulated time, coupled with negligence most likely results in errors.
  5. Errors such as jumbled information and overwriting of data occur due to software issues. Online entry to register in the electoral list is said to be the main reason for duplication of entries. When a person registers his/her name more than once online to rectify the previous error, the error creeps in. Every time it is done, the computer accepts the data to include the name more than once. Duplication arising out of this could be traced only if the ERO senses the duplication and directs the BLOs to trace it.
  6. An official who had earlier worked closely with electoral process said that the errors have occurred following the integration of EPIC database and roll database in 2004. During the integration process, all the data prior to 2004 was fed manually to the new electoral roll database. Manual feeding of mass data led to a lot of human error, which has not been rectified yet.

Anil Kumar Jha, Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka, said: “It is natural that errors occur while compiling and updating massive data and we have been doing our best to rectify the errors.”

When asked whether the software coding was responsible for inappropriate deletion of names, he denied it. He said re-registration at times leads to duplication, but it is the onus of the applicant as well as the ERO to delete the name of a person if the name is registered in two booths.

What is noteworthy in the entire process is that the ECI has not made it mandatory for all the details to be appropriate in EPIC, for a citizen to vote. A person is allowed to vote if the name of the person is correctly printed in the voter ID / slip, and he has a proper id proof. No one will ask for the accuracy of address, spellings and so on.

If you are eligible to vote in Bengaluru who did not verify your details when the draft electoral roll is published in CEO’s website, you lose your legal and moral right to question the CEO when final electoral roll is published with errors. If everyone checks the draft rolls and uses the opportunity to file objections if any, perhaps it would also contribute to some extent towards reducing factual errors in electoral roll.

(With inputs from electoral roll analyst P G Bhat)

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Akshatha M
About Akshatha M 218 Articles
Akshatha M is a Staff Journalist at Citizen Matters. She tweets at @akshata1.

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