Voter Apathy Or Election Commission Incompetence?

At just 40%, Pune saw it’s worst ever voter turnout for the Loksabha elections. Mumbai was slightly better at 44%. The dismal voter turnout numbers have shocked most of educated India. Political leaders are smirking on TV saying things like “You blame us politicians for not caring about the country, but even the ordinary citizen does not care.” I have no insider info on the matter, but am just trying to apply some common sense to figure out what could have gone wrong.

First up, we need to realize the implications of the numbers. The percentages are based on the actual registered voters. From 100 residents of Pune or Mumbai, probably only 50 odd would be registered voters and even from those 50, only 40% i.e 20 turned up to vote. So the candidate who gets the maximum votes from those 20 would win the seat. So effectively less than 10% of people would decide how 100% are governed.

Now let’s consider the possible reasons. The mainstream media has been going on and on about voter apathy and how the rich and the middle class no longer vote or care about the elections. Do you believe this? I certainly don’t. Most educated people I know were following the election campaigns closely and voted.

So how come the turnout percentage is in the 40s? What happened to the others who are registered voters and did not vote? I think the fundamental problem here is that we are trusting the figures provided by the Election Commission. For some unknown reason, questioning the judiciary and the election commission is considered taboo in India. They are sacred cows that are never to be questioned. However the fact is that the judiciary and the EC are as competent or incompetent as any other government body in India.

I am quite certain that of the city voters registered with the EC, many would have long left the city or India long back. Also there would be 1000s on long dead men and women who would still be  valid registered voters. I do not know of a single household where an EC official visited prior to the polls to check if the registered voters still exist or not. Please add a comment if you know of any.

The second major reason for the low turnout would have been that most of those who registered during the last couple of months were unable to vote due to various reasons. In many cases the names were not on the list, in some cases the polling booths did not even have all the supplementary lists. Also even if your name was on the list it was a pain to find your name, number and polling booth address.

I myself saw a person being turned away from a voting booth because he did not know his number on the list. He knew he was on the list for that booth, but did not know the serial number. The polling officer could have easily found his name in probably less than 5 seconds but they insisted on him providing the serial number. The poor fellow was then asked to go to the booths set up by political parties on the street outside and find his serial number on the list. I do not know if he took the toruble or just went back home.

I personally resubmitted my voter registration info last year so as to get a voter id card, and yet my name on the list is misspelled and my address and age are incorrect. I still haven’t got any info about where and when I can get the voter id card. How can we believe in the voter lists created by a body which couldn’t even ensure that info from my form was copied correctly into their database.

The Election commission still doesn’t even have a standard and proper functional website where you can register or check your voter registration details. NGOs and did a lot of  awareness and registration work which really should have been done by the EC and yet we see that things are in such bad shape. As for Internet voter list search, some random and temporary websites are created just before each election and these sites die out soon after. So when the next polls come, the election commission officials again start from scratch.

I think the EC is getting away with murder as the media is caught up in blaming the citizens and not focusing on the messed up EC work. I believe that most citizens truly care about the nation, democracy and the elections.

Finally, even if I presume that the EC voter turnout numbers are real, I do not think it’s a cause of major concern. If despite all the awareness campaigns, if only 40% felt that their vote would make a difference, even that’s a message in a way. I certainly do not support the compulsory voting idea that’s been going about. It’s better if the 40% who truly care for the country decide who gets elected. If everyone is forced to vote, they would either randomly press any button on the voting machines or be happy to accept money and bribes for their votes. It’s perhaps better if these people don’t vote at all.