Election Commission of India’s (ECI) letter dated 12 April 2012 to Karnataka’s Chief Election Officer asks him to conduct a survey of Knowledge, Attitude, Behavior, Belief, and Practices (KABBP) of electors, with the help of professional agencies. The letter shows concern about low registration and poor participation of citizens in the election process. A report on the findings of the survey was to have been submitted to ECI latest by 31 August 2012.
The concern of ECI about KABBP is welcome.
Anthony Downs in an essay named Economic Theory of Democracy, published in 1957 discusses the forces that play in voting. His formula to create interest in voting is PB + D > C
- P = probability that an individual’s vote will affect the outcome of an election. This probability is zero. The minimum winning margin in the last Assembly Elections in Karnataka was 20. That person would have won the elections irrespective of my vote for him or to another candidate. Winning by a single vote would a very rare occurrence.
- B = perceived benefit to the individual if a person or political party wins. As P is zero, the product PB is zero.
"I do not need help from the government – no PDS, no reservations, no interest free loans; no waivers … Governments can only tax me and make things difficult." A person who feels that dealings of the government are unfair may get disenchanted with the political system and find no benefit in participating in elections. Electoral system by itself cannot change governance.
- D = democratic duty. Social obligation or personal gratification is cultural. This may also be a result of allegiance to a political party, where we support a candidate or party irrespective of outcome.
Voter turnout figures are similar in elections to Loksabha elections 2009 (57%) and Assembly elections 2008 (61%) in Karnataka. Also, turnout in Bangalore Assembly constituencies and wards of BBMP are similar. Democratic sense of duty does not seem to vary based on the power associated with the elected position.
What if state enacts a law making voting compulsory? Our current infrastructure and quality of electoral system and electoral rolls are inadequate to ensure full participation. Therefore, a law that cannot be enforced will become a mockery.
- C = time, effort, and financial cost involved in voting.
According to Downs. all the pros (P, B, D) need to outweigh the cons (C).
Greater the difference of (PB+D) and (C), higher would be voter turnout. For this, we have to increase P, B, and D, all of which are not amenable to processes.
We can, however, reduce the value of C by improving processes and reducing the cost involved in voting from a voter’s perspective. Improving the quality of electoral roll and making it a respectable document will help in reducing the cost.
By different correspondences, ECI has accepted that the electoral roll in the country requires improvement in quality in terms of correctness of information and completeness of data. They have also launched programs like ‘Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP)’ and ‘Knowledge, Attitude, Behaviour Belief, and Practices (KABBP) of Electors.’
In Karnataka, the programs and promises have remained on paper and are violated in letter and spirit.
A citizen gives personal data to various government agencies and public sector organisations. In most of these cases, the citizen is a direct beneficiary by providing his data – like for a ration card, gas connection, telephone line, etc. However, he is not able to see personal benefits by registering as a voter. Hence, the EC has to go deeper than blaming the citizens for their apathy in registering as voters.
We shall further discuss how we can reduce the cost of registration and maintenance of Electoral Roll and make the document respectable.
As a passing thought, Knowledge, Attitude, Behavior, Belief, and Practices (KABBP) in the office of CEO, Karnataka requires a study before we study these for voters. ⊕