Vote Bengaluru sounds the bell

City and state officials have been engaged in yet another effort to clean up the error and horror-ridden voter rolls in the state. What's in store? How do you get on the elusive list?

The Election Commission and local government officials have been in the news recently on yet another effort (not unlike the past) to clean up the electoral rolls in the state. The upcoming assembly elections in May are a virtual deadline for this process. Civil society groups in Bangalore have pitched in to lend the EC a helping hand. Their goal is to make sure genuine voters are able to cast their votes, and fake voters weeded out.

How have these efforts fared? Though the task at hand is herculean, a beginning has been made.

For long, voters in Bangalore have had to put up with error ridden electoral lists hostage to the machinations of politicians of various hues. But finally, in January 2008, the Election Commission decided that it was time it stepped in to stem the rot. It ordered a revision of the electoral list in the state, after finding lakhs of bogus voters, dead voters, absentee voters and wrong addresses of voters.

Voter registration offices
Citywide list (PDF)

Chief Electoral Officer R Ramaseshan (he retires this month end) has had his task cut out for him. His office is tasked with the mandate of preparing the electoral roll for the state. There are about 4.28 crore voters in Karnataka with 39.13 lakh voters in Bangalore, according to the Karnataka Election Commission. Preparing a new roll involves lakhs of inclusion and deletion of names and is a mammoth task.

In performing his job, he has to deal with the citizens’ apathy, the perceived obscurity of the voter registration offices in the city, increasing number of voters, lack of security for the verification team, and the nexus between booth level officers and political parties.

“The onus to see that his/her name is in the rolls falls on the citizen. The problem is that people don’t pay attention to including their names till the last minute. Voters’ apathy is a big challenge. Many among the upper and middle classes are not bothered about voting,” complains Chief Electoral Officer R Ramaseshan.

The EC has even attempted line registration in November 2007, says Ramaseshan. “We opened an online registration process but it received only 4,400 applications. It has been discontinued at the moment but may be made available in the future. The level of apathy seems to be directly proportionate to the citizen’s upward mobility,” he says, lashing out at the elite.

Ramaseshan makes it clear that while every citizen has the right to vote he or she must ensure that his or her name is on the list. If voters do not make arrangements during verification to ensure that their details are made available to the volunteers they will not be included in the list.

The Offices of municipal Assistant Revenue Officers (AROs) have been made the point of contact for citizens to include, delete or correct their names and addresses in the electoral roll. They have to use Form 6 to include their names, Form 7 for deletion and Form 8 for corrections. The entire list of these offices is available on the Chief Electoral Officer’s website.

The forms are also available on the same website. There is a search facility online for Bangalore voters, but the quality o the data and manner in which the results are displayed does not give the impression the search is functioning properly – which can turn off citizens looking for an effective system.

“Make sure that you check with misspellings and variations of your name too,” cautions Dr Meenakshi Bharath, a volunteer with the Vote Bengaluru citizens’ campaign in Malleshwaram in Ward 7. She has been interacting frequently with the booth level officers in her ward.

“The fact is that the voters’ list is haphazard and a better system needs to be put in place to prevent confusion. We are working at telling them how exactly they need to go about getting the names and addresses of voters right so that there is no mix up. A few of the booth level officers we have interacted with are keen to get it right. The problem is that so far nobody has instructed them clearly on what exactly they should be doing,” she says.

Do you want help to register or check if your name is on the list?

Citizens’ Action Forum (CAF) Padmanabhanagar Ph: 26699085

Citizens’ Voluntary Initiative for the City (CIVIC) Shanthinagar Ph: 22110584

Karnataka Kolageri Nivasigala Samyukhtha Saghatane (KKNSS) Adugodi Ph: 22238739

Public Affairs Centre (PAC) Bommasandra Ph: 27834918

Swabhimana Koramangala Ph: 25538584

The Vote Bengaluru campaign is a joint initiative of Public Affairs and residents’ associations such as Citizens’ Action Forum (CAF), Citizens’ Voluntary Initiative for the City (CIVIC) and Swabhimana. The urban poor are represented through an NGO, the Karnataka Kolageri Nivasigala Samyuktha Sanghatane (KKNSS). Campaigners say they want to put an end to the elections of money power and muscle power and replace vote bank politics with issue based politics. It has begun by lending its mite to ensuring an error free electoral roll.

The campaign, however, is making a small start. Volunteers from VB will interact with booth level officers and citizens in around 100 polling booths in about half a dozen wards to ensure that the voters’ list is as error free as possible. (Bangalore has 135 wards). Reports have coming in from ward 50 (Basavanagudi), ward 53 (Srinagar), ward 70 (Shantinagar) and ward 55 (Banashankari) at the time of writing this report.

To complement the EC’s online voters list, VB is also making available the entire voters list for the city on a CD-ROM to make it easier for citizens to find out whether their names are on it. Says Poornima D G, coordinator for the campaign, “We need quality rolls for quality polls. Our aim is to create an accurate database for each polling booth.”

Mohammed Mardhan of Chandra Layout, in Ward 39, is enthusiastic about the exercise. He says, “After the last elections we conducted a survey and found that some 500 genuine voters were not able to cast their because of various errors. So this time let’s hope everybody can vote.” Lack of accountability in the system could be responsible for the proliferation of bogus voters. “We have seen for ourselves how the politics of money power and muscle power plays itself out during elections. There is indeed a high price for slum votes,” says Madhusudhan of KKNSS.

The campaign has highlighted a number of contradictions. For example, in Prashant Nagar in Ward 36 many postal addresses are not recognised by the revenue department. This may disenfranchise a number of voters. Says P L Rao, one of the campaign volunteers in the area, “Some 800 people may not be able to vote because of the conflicting views of the postal and revenue departments. At least 10 streets mandated by the revenue department cannot be located on the ground.”

Electoral rolls apart, VB says they will take things further. On the cards is evolving a citizens’ charter that will reflect real issues and encouraging people’s candidates to contest elections.

The final electoral roll is to be published on March 10, 2008. Requests for inclusion can be made till the last date of nomination, which will be known after the election dates are announced. Voters ID cars will be issued only to those whose names are on the final list.

An electoral roll which includes thousands of bogus voters makes a mockery of democracy. The logistics of preparing an error free electoral roll in Bangalore though is a herculean task, given the rapidly changing demographics of the city. The laborious processes employed by the Election Commission don’t make this task any easier. Only an overhaul of the methods employed together with the active participation of civil society groups and citizens can ensure that the electoral roll is error free.

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