Bengaluru’s voter turnout could look low this time as well – here’s why

Problems of duplicate voter entries in the rolls continue to affect the quality of voter rolls. It's too late to correct them now, but Election Commission can correct the entries before 2019 election.

Large number of duplicate entries in electoral rolls means lack of truthfulness in statistical observations, and consequent rhetorical statements like “people in cities don’t vote.” When people say that turnout % in an election is low in Bengaluru, that calculation is based on electoral rolls bloated with duplicate entries and illegal entries like those of dead voters.

For the past six years, every time the CEO Karnataka published the electoral rolls, I have been reporting the counts of suspected duplicate entries by category. Whereas the occurrences of duplicate entries have reduced over the years, a lot of duplicate records remain in the rolls.

It is easy to identify and delete duplicate entries. I identify the suspected duplicate entries by fuzzy comparison of name and relative name strings. If the photographs of such short-listed suspicions are compared, we would have a list of most likely duplicate entries to field verify and delete. In 2013 I had submitted to ECI the software to find duplicates including photo comparison. The application can be refined and improved.

As an example, see the counts of suspected duplicate records of Basavanagudi constituency by categories (note: a set is of two records in serials 1 to 4 below):

  1. Duplicated with the EPIC number: 2 sets. These are sure duplicates.
  2. Duplicated within the same house: 426 sets. Mostly duplicates.
  3. Not from the same house, but from the same part: 1049 sets. Likely duplicates.
  4. From different parts, sets of two records: 10,046. Some of them are duplicates. When a person changes his part in some cases, it might not have been deleted from the old one.
  5. Like category 4, but with more than 2 records per set: 2,434 sets.

While old duplicate entries continue in the rolls, new duplicate entries are created with each new version.

  1. New entries are made even though records of these voters are already even in the same part.
  2. A new record is entered twice as contiguously.

Some example counts of freshly created duplicate entries between November 30, 2017 and 28 February 2018 are as follows:

Constituency Additions New Dupl OA New Dupl AA Total New Dupl Dup by Addn %
AC151 17,392 60 140 200 1.15
AC158 7,704 79 50 129 1.67
AC159 6,992 38 41 79 1.13
AC160 11,906 75 136 211 1.77
AC161 10,358 91 148 239 2.31
AC162 4,831 66 30 96 1.99
AC163 10,329 84 60 144 1.39
AC170 8,115 100 52 152 1.87
AC172 8,067 42 51 93 1.15

In the table above, column “New Dupl OA”  gives the count of records entered though the records already existed in the rolls. Column “New Dupl AA” gives the count of records entered twice. 1.15% to 2.31% of new data entries have created duplicate records.

We can modify the data entry software to detect and warn when a duplicate entry is being made.

Duplicate records are one of several quality issues in the electoral rolls of Bengaluru. It may be too late to act before the Assembly Elections in May to cleanse the rolls. However, if CEO-KA desires, he can cleanse the rolls well before the Loksabha Elections 2019.

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Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka (CEO-KA), Press Note No. DPAR 05 MC 2018 dated April 2, 2018, had announced a special registration drive on 8th April and that all the Booth Level Officers (BLOs) had been directed to be at their respective Polling Booths to receive applications from citizens. He should know that many BLOs listed on his website do not exist in reality. I had reported this issue to the ECI and CEO-KA several times in the past.

Times of India published on 3rd April: “The special one-day camp will be organized from 10am to 5pm this Sunday,” Karnataka chief electoral officer (CEO) Sanjiv Kumar told reporters on Monday.

At the polling stations in Girinagar (Ward 162) I did not find any official doing voter registration even after 11 am. There was no notice or any arrangement for the registration process. Some citizens were still waiting at 11 am and complaining. When I called the CEO-KA, the phone number was out of reach and that of Ramesh, Joint CEO, was ringing but he did not respond. Then I sent email to CEO-KA and various BBMP officials concerned with voter registration. By about 12 noon, officials grudgingly reached the polling stations and I received a few calls to confirm that.

Times of India report titled “Hiccups mar BBMP’s voter enrollment drive: citizens fume at apathy” gives the story of the drive and drivel across the city. However, it is heartening that 1.2 Lakh applications were received despite the apathy shown the officials in the conduct of this registration drive.

Numerous well-intentioned policy letters and directives of ECI and CEO-KA remain on paper and don’t get done on the ground. Where stops the buck? The buck gets shot and none is caught.

The quality of electoral rolls is deteriorating, access is becoming more difficult, and the response time of CEO-KA website is dismal.

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