How to fix voter registration issues in Bengaluru

Some ideas on how to solve the difficulties in voter registration—from using post offices to Bangalore One centres—making it as painless as Aadhaar process often is.

Whenever there is a discussion about the process of voter registration, people complain of delays in the registration process and red tapism. In a recent article on Million Voter Rising campaign published on Citizen Matters, the citizen campaigners who are coaxing people in Mahadevapura constituency to get themselves registered said that they have been facing the issue of delay in voter registration. The BBMP officials who handle the voter registration are said to be responsible.

How can the voter registration system improve? What is the solution for this problem?

‘Involve Indian Postal Department’

One long-standing demand has been to involve Indian Postal Department in the voter registration process. In 2009, Loksatta party had suggested involving post offices in the process of voter registration and correction of electoral rolls permanently. Since the postal department is the most trusted institution and with postal personnel known to be generally friendly and courteous, with very little corruption, the political party batted for involving postal personnel in the process.

The party had then suggested to make local post offices the nodal agency for voter registration. With the hassle in the registration process, civic activists too now feel the need for involving postal offices in the registration process.

Srinivas Alavilli, Co-founder of Citizens for Bengaluru, says involving postal department in the voter registration process would help people. “Postal department is reliable, trust-worthy, and people are well-aware of the post offices near them. Off late though post offices are losing their relevance, they can be given a facelift by making them hub of social and civic activities, also by involving them in voter registration.”

While Alavilli is skeptical about the idea of completely handing over the responsibility of voter registration to the Postal department, he says a careful integration between the Election Commission, Postal department and the civic body can improve the voter registration system. “I wouldn’t say the BBMP should be completely kept out of the electoral process, but I would say resting the entire responsibility on the civic body too isn’t good. There should be a well-integrated system.”

Apart from Postal department, Alavilli believes that the involvement of Bangalore One centres too would help speed up the registration. “I don’t see a reason why they shouldn’t be involved in the process. They have been doing a good job so far (based on) payment of fee. I think they can do voter registration work too, efficiently,” he says, adding that effective use of technology is key to the better voter registration.

‘Hard copies should be done away with’

Anjali Saini from the Million Voter Rising group sees the lack of technology in the voter registration process. She says it’s high time the age-old system of hard copy verification is done away with. “The Election Commission and municipal body should end the system of submission of hard copies. Once a person registers online, why should he/she be made to submit the hard copy too?” Saini asks. Municipal offices which do the registration have store huge piles of hard copies, she adds.

Whenever there has been demand from the citizens to do away with the submission of hard copies, an immediate excuse is given: the officer who visits homes for verification needs the hard copies to verify and since these officers do not have the privilege to have a printer at office. Therefore, the responsibility of supplying the hard copy lies on the applicant.

The solution for this that Anjali suggests is to go fully online and do random checking of documents just like how it is done in tax filing. “If the officers find out people who have faked documents, they should be punished. Imposing heavy penalty can prevent people from providing false information.”

However, in the first place, she says, the officers should outrightly reject the application if they are unhappy with the documents that are submitted online. “Don’t pain citizens by asking them to bring hard copies and then reject the application.”

Having seen the glitches in the voter registration system closely, Anjali says she is not against the process of verification itself, but only against the way it is done. “Let the officers visit the residences and verify but it does not require hard copy. The system should involve technology. Verification should be made online may be through an agency like how Aadhaar verification is done,” she opines.

‘Involve citizens, work with existing system’

Voter data analyst from Bengaluru Commander P G Bhat has been observing the process of electoral rolls for many years now. He points out that there are two sides to the reforms. One, to reform the entire electoral process and two, do bring some changes in the existing process.

Talking from the system perspective and on how voter registration can be improved, Bhat says he is for the involvement of citizens and organisations in encouraging people to register in electoral rolls.

“There is a lot of difference in the kind of problems that people face while registering, from ward to ward, pocket to pocket. So the solution to the problem too is diverse. There might be cases of delay in voter registration in Mahadevapura, but I don’t think people living in Jayanagar or other parts of South Bengaluru face the same issue,” Bhat observes.

Then he says the role of booth level volunteers and booth level agents should be made use of effectively. “Both of them can encourage more number of people to vote, which is not happening now. BLV’s who get semi-official status and BLAs who work for political parties should work on encouraging people to register throughout, not just before the elections.”

Commander Bhat says he is not the one who would ask for the electoral reform by bringing in a new law, unless the changes happen within the existing system in the first place. “There is no point in introducing a new law to change the electoral system, without changing the existing the system and attitude of the officials,” he says.

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