General Elections 2024: Voter awareness and accurate registration crucial

With the Lok Sabha elections coming up, civic groups in Mumbai are gearing up to help people with voter registrations to ensure higher turnouts.

As we all know, Lok Sabha elections are round the corner, followed by the Vidhan Sabha elections and then possibly by the municipal elections in Mumbai. All of these are crucial for us to to live a comfortable life. And the results of these elections are determined by how we, the people vote.

The Lok Sabha makes crucial laws, allocates the national budget, shapes our standard of living due to taxes like GST and defines our employment situations due to the investments it makes or does not make. The percentage of resources the central government allocates to issues like healthcare, education, public transport, a healthy and safe environment determine our quality of life. The social and political atmosphere the government creates in the country defines whether some sections of society live in safe environments and whether some do not.

Then comes the Vidhan Sabha. Its budget and laws also affect us as many areas of our lives are ruled by state laws. The Municipality affects other arenas of our lives, like the quality of roads, quality and quantity of water we get, everyday infrastructure like state hospitals, whether we get medicines and so on. The term of the last Municipal elections ended four years ago in 2020, yet no elections were held from 2021 onwards. This could have been due to the pandemic and later on for political reasons.

These elections offer opportunities of change, the chance for better lives, or a chance to contribute to the course of development and planning of the environments we live in. 

The Indian Constitution has given us the right to elect our own government. Any citizen of India who is 18 years or above, has the right to vote. Every person has one vote. There is no discrimination on any basis – caste, religion, gender, class, wealth.

Do we realise this? Do we go to the polling booth and vote? Do we examine the candidates and parties who we are choosing to make laws and rules that govern us for five long years?  

Read more: BMC budget 2024-25: Focusing on long-term infrastructure projects

Low voter turnout

In the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, the voter turnout was a mere 55.1% in Mumbai. Nearly 4.5 people out of 10 did not vote. This was a little better than in 2014, when only 51.06% of people voted.

This has to improve in the coming elections. Every vote is crucial. There have been several instances in India, when candidates have been defeated by very small margins, between 1 and 36 votes. For example, in 2004, during the Karnataka assembly elections, a candidate won by just one vote. In 2008, the Rajasthan Congress chief CP Joshi lost the assembly elections by one vote. In 1962, two MPs were elected after securing just nine votes more than runners-up.

How to register to vote

In order to vote, you need to register with the Election Commission. For this you need to fill one of the registration forms available for different kinds of voters.

If you are a new voter, you need to fill form 6. If you are already registered, but you need to change something i.e. if your name is spelt incorrectly, or your gender has been wrongly assigned, or you have changed your residence–, you need to fill form 8. If you need to delete any name in your family, for example, if someone has left the country or is no more, you need to fill form 7.

People attending a voting registration camp at Mankhurd. Pic: Chayanika Shah
It is important for voters to check if their documentation is in place for getting a new voter id card or making changes in the existing card. Pic: Chayanika Shah

All these are available on the Voter Helpline App and can be done very easily. Documents of verification are especially important to carry as you complete your registration. You just need your age proof and residence proof.

For age proof you may have your Aadhar Card (if it indicates your exact and correct date of birth) or passport or PAN card. For residence proof you could use your Aadhar card or passport, your driving licence, pension papers, even health smart cards. It is important to note, you will need your latest photo with a light background. If you have a voter card of someone from your house, that will help you to get a voting booth close to your family members.

You can download the Voter Helpline App from the Play Store. 

Even after registration, you would need to check if your name is in the Voter list. Only if your name is there on the list, can you vote. This can also be done on the Voter Helpline App.

Read more: Explainer: All you need to know about voter registration

Voting registration camps

As part of the umbrella of Bharat Jodo Abhiyaan campaign, we have worked with local communities in setting up voter registration camps. We are following up with more communities to ensure the inclusion of voters in the latest voter list. One of our camps was held at the Portuguese Church, Dadar with the active support of the Bombay Catholic Sabha.

Prior to these camps, we identify local activists in areas where marginalised communities reside. We collaborate with these activists to set up tables and chairs and as part of the camps, we announce that registration for voter id is underway and that people can come and register new voters or change their addresses, name etc.

Identifying possession of all government cards is a very important process for most vulnerable and marginalised people. We have noticed that when they see a set of people sitting in public, they always stop by to enquire.

In a three to four hour camp there are easily more than 200 people who pause, ask, go home and come back with their requests for making a new card for someone, or for corrections in their existing cards, or even for deletions. Name spellings and mismatch in addresses is a common concern exacerbated by the fact that the English and Devnagari spellings do not match. In addition, there is a lot of concern expressed by those that do not have a permanent address.

People at a voting camp
A voter registration camp at Mahim Bazaar. In a span of three to four hours, around 200 people come for enquiries and seeking help in making changes to their voter registrations at these camps. Pic: Chayanika Shah

The process of registering a new voter and correcting an existing card is fairly simple. But sometimes the instructions given by the election commission and the requests made by the ground level staff do not match and that creates doubts in people’s minds. Presence of civil society groups like ours have helped to resolve these doubts for the communities as well as the election officials. 

For some of us this was the first time that we had undertaken an exercise like this. We have always voted and have also assumed that the vulnerable populations do turn up to cast their vote in larger numbers. However, in recent years the number of people voting seems to have dwindled and it shows in the low voter turnout. There is a general feeling of hopelessness that we sense especially in the people that are more vulnerable. This made us want to intervene in the process and the camps were a way to address this.

Faulty voter lists

Apart from a large number of people not going to vote, another issue that has worried us is the deletion of names from voter lists. Many deletions are justified as they occur when there is a death of a voter. However in some cases, deletions occur for no reason. We need to identify these cases and and rectify them.

According to an article in The Hindu, there were 30 crore voters missing in the 2019 elections. Many of these were young people who had not registered yet as well as migrants. But in a study of missing voters by some concerned citizens it was found that a very large proportion of these missing voters were from marginalised and minority communities like Muslim and Dalit voters. There were instances where some family members were in the voter list and some had been deleted. 

Read more: India’s 4,800 cities & towns need timely elections, simultaneous or otherwise

An atmosphere of injustice

The last decade has seen a lot of very distressing situations accompanied by an atmosphere of hate that has engulfed our society, our communities and our country. This atmosphere gives rise to injustice, to bulldozer politics, to violence against the poor, against minorities of all kinds, against women and the marginalised.

Even in Mumbai, the injustice is visible in the way the city is developing, where slums have been demolished to make way for ‘world-class’ infrastructure and high income real estate. Earlier in the year there were also attempts at taking over land possessed by a Church without due process. One such attempt was a take over by the Municipality, which was thwarted by public protests. 

We are all citizens, who need to strive together to make our lives better rather than foster the growing animosity between sections of people and between different communities. It is only in an atmosphere of mutual respect and collective well-being that all of us can prosper and live better lives.

We are sure that all of us want to live with self-respect and dignity, earning our own bread. We are self-respecting citizens and will not be satisfied with measly doles instead of the employment, which is our right.

We believe that an active citizenry is the only guarantee of democracy.

 We have come together to support and strengthen our citizenship rights under the common umbrella of Bharat Jodo Abhiyaan. We do not belong to any political party, nor do we take any financial support from them. We believe in working, living, loving and prospering together.  

We hope you join us in our collective endeavours, with a lot of hope for a better tomorrow.

If you wish to get in touch with us, here are the contact numbers of our members.
Shweta: 9833700196; Kalam: 8286694484; Sujata: 9820930369.

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