Recently, Smart Vote, a Bangalore-based citizens’ group, discovered a number of errors in the electoral lists of several polling booths. While some were complete replicas of a neighbouring polling booth, others showed some names repeated several times in the same list. The issue was brought to the notice of the State Election Commission (SEC) which is overseeing the BBMP council elections. Even as these errors were being rectified, there seemed to be many more such anomalies going unreported.
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It’s against this backdrop that Citizen Matters spoke to Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Karnataka Dr C S Suranjana, who is responsible for conducting parliamentary and assembly elections in the state. Although the city council polls do not fall within the purview of the Election Commission (EC), he spoke at length on how the EC checks errors and updates the rolls.
What are your thoughts on having one electoral roll for parliamentary and municipal elections?
Even now it is only one electoral roll. For municipal elections, we hand over whatever the database we have to the SEC. But the SEC, if they wish, can update it for their elections. But ultimately it is one database only.
Can’t there be a system where only one roll gets updated? When Lok Sabha polls happen, do you have to take the rolls back from them?
Whatever maybe the machinery – EC or SEC – the implementing authorities are the same. They work on behalf of SEC or EC and will have all the records. For example, even for the BBMP elections, they may have got applications for inclusion of names. It’s the same election machinery at the district level or BBMP. So that way I don’t see any major problem in reconciling these two things.
You may have read about Smart Vote that detected duplication of voter rolls in 16 polling booths recently. The mistakes had occurred in the online rolls of the BBMP. But the CEO rolls were correct. This makes it obvious that there are two different rolls. Wouldn’t it be easier for voters if there was just one place they could go to for clarifications?
Without knowing the facts, I would not be able to comment. But as far as we are concerned, we periodically run the reduplication drive (to check errors). That is one way of cleaning up the electoral roll.
But wouldn’t it be better to have just one roll?
See, we have to go according to the EC instructions. Whatever the electoral rolls we have, we’ll hand it over to the SEC. We don’t come into the picture later.
As a top election official, do you feel there should be just one roll, instead of exchanging these rolls?
There are two things. The number of polling stations may go up in BBMP elections. It will not be the same. So naturally we have to split the electoral rolls and prepare separate parts for the polling stations. It has to undergo some change. Under those circumstances, if there is some overlap, then it’s bound to be there.
So it becomes necessary to have two rolls?
Don’t you think cleaning up the voter rolls itself might increase voter turnout? Even if it is in a small way?
As I said, voter turnout depends on so many factors. Some of them maybe under the control of the election authorities; but not all. For example, some voters may see no use in going out and voting depending on their previous experience. The election machinery will not have any influence on that. We can only talk about the advantages of voting. The NGOs can educate the voters. But the individual perception of the voter is not under our control.
Suranjana explains that the EC is busy setting up a national computerised database. In case a person shifts from one state to another and includes his name in the new voter list, the database will detect if his name already exists in the previous list. "It will take some time but once that comes through, maybe to some extent, all these problems may be sorted out," says Suranjana. The national database will be linked with the state and district-level databases. The EC is also contemplating online inclusion, correction, as well as deletion of entries in the rolls. This entire system is expected to be in place in about two years, says the CEO.
There are cases where a person’s name appears multiple times in one polling booth list. How can this be checked?
(To check such mistakes) we run a reduplication software which detects repetition of names. We then verify the same and delete them. In fact, in a particular state, we deleted over 54 lakh names.Because, as a voter, I may get anxious and get my name enrolled twice. I’ll not have time or the inclination to get my name deleted in the previous roll. So certain names remain. We run this software periodically.
How often is this done by the CEO’s office?
As and when the need arises …. Before the elections.
What does the SEC do in this case?
I am not aware of what they do.
In the long term, what is the solution to have a voter roll with minimal errors? Is it the national database?
I think national database is a solution but again, it is an aggregate of the state database which in turn is an aggregation of the district database. So in fact at each level, we have to ensure that the data is maintained and protected. It depends on the efforts of all the states.
So the rolls of Bangalore must be error-free to show up properly on the national database. Is that how it’s going to work?
See you have a server here in the state. And you have a national data server. So whenever the EC wants to have the data, it’s uploaded. It is done periodically. EC will always have access to the state database. I can only speak for this state.
But cases of errors are something they cannot detect. It’s something that needs to be done here.
See the point is computerisation of database does not dispense with the other institutional arrangements. For example, when a voter feels his name is not spelt correctly or his address is missing, he files an application. Whether he gives an application online or on paper, that system cannot be dispensed with. The same will be the case even after the national database comes into existence. We have a summary revision of electoral rolls and that’s continuous. So the only thing is the mechanism by which it is done and the way in which the data is stored. But one advantage of this computerised database is that search becomes easier and so does reduplication.
So what happens if a person submits his Form 6 with his name spelt correctly, but the person at the data-entry level or elsewhere spells t he name or gender incorrectly. These are the errors people are pointing at. How can these be fixed?
We have got the mechanism of application of Form 8 and other forms. For corrections, a person can give a form to get name or gender corrected. Accordingly, the correction will be done.
But how can you ensure that the correction will be accurate? At the time of submission, the details I give are accurate. How do you ensure that when I give my Form 8, it’s still going to be correct?
No, in most cases the entries are done correctly. But there can be human errors. You could apply for alteration of entries.