Really, was it 45 per cent turnout?

Turnout on Sunday’s elections in Bangalore cannot be calculated accurately unless the election authorities with the help of BBMP fix the electoral roll mess. Turnout may have been higher.

Yet again, on the day after the city polls of March 28th, both State Election Commission (SEC) officials and the city’s dailies are crying hoarse about low turnout in Bengaluru. Official estimates are reportedly putting the number at around 45 percent and several dailies today have sermonised in their editorials that Bangaloreans did not take this election seriously enough.

Really? Let’s look at the numbers again. According to the SEC, the total number of voters for all 198 wards of Bengaluru is 69.7 lakhs. Let’s stop right there. Is this number even possible?

Graphic: Meera K.

Even after amalgamation of towns and panchayats into ‘Bruhat’ Bengaluru, if you reasonably estimate the population to be around 80 lakhs (8 million) is it possible that the size of the voter list (people of age greater than 18, and registered) is nearly 70 lakhs?


So why are our voter rolls so large? Any opinion-making on turnout must start with the nagging but the least-talked about reality is that the city’s electoral rolls are bloated.

What is bloating? Bloated rolls happen when over the years, deletions of outdated, bogus and incorrect entries are never completely done. People may move residence and not file a deletion form (common). More likely for Bengaluru’s rolls at least, many mistakes are made while creating new entries. People who do not find their name on the rolls get themselves registered again and again.

Just last month, the worrisome state of our rolls was further exposed by the citizens group Smart Vote. Following that, Citizen Matters staff journalist Vaishnavi Vittal exposed the shambles in her detailed interview with the chief electoral officer. See that here.

It is not that deletions are never done. Every time there is a roll revision, there are deletions. Just before this election, the SEC says 2285 deletions were done. This was for 57 wards. For the other 142 wards, no deletions were done.

So what is the real electorate size (i.e. valid registered voter list size) for Bangalore? No one knows, not even the SEC. What then, could have been the real turnout then on March 28th?

There is one back-of-the-envelope way to get a rough estimate. Assume for the moment, that the 45 per cent of 69.7 lakh voters did indeed turnout. This means around 31.4 lakh Bangaloreans voted on March 28th.

Now assume that at least 30 percent of the rolls are bogus entries requiring deletion. This means that the valid electorate size for Bangalore is only 48.8 lakhs voters, not 69.7. Using 48.8 lakhs as the base, turnout on Sunday was a high 64 per cent.

Claims made by people with experience in this matter suggest that the extent of bloating of the rolls may even be upto 40 per cent.  Even at 20 per cent bloat, Bengaluru’s adjusted-turnout on Sunday comes to 55 per cent. Those are high numbers and less depressing than the 45 percent being dished out as if only to spite Bangaloreans.

In sum, 45 per cent turnout is very likely an underestimate. The least the SEC must do is admit to the problem and then put out the numbers.


  1. Vishwanath Srikantaiah says:

    Logical thinking. Completely agree with Subbu Vincent on this one. The population of Bangalore was 5.8 million in 2001. With a 20 % decadal growth rate that comes to 7 million by now. About 48 % -say 50 %- i.e. 3.5 million children are below the age of voting (
    That leaves 35 lakhs or 3.50 million adults. If 31.40 lakh adults voted that’s a voting percentage of over 88 % say I. Don’t tell me that with a bit of bogus voting the numbers can be below 75 % 🙂
    So I would argue that Subbu actually underestimates the figures of voting percentage and that it is closer to 90 %. Which makes me believe in democracy and also that my corporator truly represent a majority of the populace or at least the voting populace and that I do live in a reasonably alive democracy.
    Thanks once again for raising the issue and calling for a systematic reform of the electoral rolls. Like the BPL cards which exceed the population of Karnataka exaggerated counting and listing of voters is of no use to anyone.

  2. Sanjay Vijayaraghavan says:

    Excellent points Subbu. Kudos for writing such a logical article.

  3. iamalsovijay says:

    Agree to a large extent with the above article. During my own experience in distributing voter slips, I was convinced that the voter list is hardly correct. In one of the streets that I covered house to house, I was left with ~400 slips from total 700 in the voters list. Many had shifted houses, a few double entries and the rest were just ghosts – even the neighbours did not know abt them.

    But at the same time we have to consider that a lot of citizens are not on the voter list – migrants, young population, just lazy etc. And this is a substantial lot. Many In many apartments only 30-40% were registered voters! So these unregistered voters do cover up to a certain extent for the ghost voters.

    The article above makes the argument at a more global no. comparison of population to electoral list. Bigger Q is whether 80 lacs is correct no. there. Censuses and estimates of population have their own issues of correctness.

    All said I do agree with the overall message of the article that the electoral lists are flawed. They need big time clean up.

  4. Srinivas Alavilli says:

    Thanks for taking this up, Subbu. We need to expose the mess once and for all. We can share all our findings from Ward 93 Vasant Nagar. here are few

    1. Voters listed in multiple ‘parts’ (booths) – very common
    this bloats the list quite a bit;

    2. Voters outside ward boundaries showing up in our
    lists. We discovered that 400 voters belonged to our ward 24 hours before polling day!;

    Family members living under the same roof for decades showing up in different places

    A huge percent of voters do not have pictures on the official voter rolls. I have reasons to believe there is something behind this phenomenon.

    More work needs to be done now and here before we all forget about this election.

    And btw, based on your logic (which I agree with), we had 100% turnout in several booths in Vasant Nagar!

  5. iamalsovijay says:

    ‘@Srinivas one good indicator to test the other “phenomenon” would be to check how many voters with no photos in the voter list came and cast their votes. we shld be able to get this info from the polling agents. my hypothesis here is that bogus voters are more likely to be pushed through photo-less voter list.

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