Why I could not vote in Hyderabad on April 11th

"India has gone for parliamentary elections 16 times thus far, yet we have not moved ahead from inking our fingers and registering our thumbprint or sign, all of which are prone to corruption," writes an angry voter who found her name inexplicably deleted from the rolls. Here is her account of what followed, and what she has concluded from the experience.

As a socialist politician of Socialist Secular Sovereign Democratic Republic of India, it hurts me deeply that I was excluded from the democratic process of exercising my fundamental constitutional right to vote in spite of repeated representations to election officials in New Delhi and Hyderabad.

What happened

Around mid 2018, reports were pouring in from various parts of Telangana state that voters did not find their names in electoral rolls. On 24th September 2018 I was shocked to find that my voter ID too was not present in the electoral rolls.

I wrote same day to Election Commission of India and Chief Electoral Officer Telengana to restore my voter id that has been deleted without due procedure being followed as I had not received any notice till date.  I had contested the MP election in 2014 from Hyderabad on the same voter id. I had filed a case in high court for implementation of NOTA-None of the Above in the GHMC election in 2016. How can my voter id be deleted just like that as if I were non-existent?

What happened when I emailed and spoke to Telangana election officials is far more astounding than the unauthorised and non-procedural deletion of my voter id.  The ERO, BLO and four other officials visited my residence and video recorded their getting me filed with a Form-6 for registration as voter again, as my voter id was deleted.

But, I protested that Form-6 is meant for new voters. Why am I filling form 6 as if I just turned 18.  They laughed. No other way to get you registered as voter, they said. The officials had no qualms in enrolling a deleted voter through Form-6 even if form-6 itself contains that I should not have been registered as voter any time before and further that if I sign a declaration that if I give wrong information, I shall be prosecuted under section 34 of representation of people act and under Indian penal code!

My followup with election officials did not yield any action towards either restoring deleted voters or absolving deleted voters of the crime committed by filling Form-6. They did not create a separate channel for deleted voters to re-register themselves as voters.

CEO admits to large scale deletions

After 7th December 2018, CEO Telangana openly admitted that 22 lakh voters were deleted.   Socialist Party (India) issued notice to CEO Telangana highlighting all serious violations and demanded that he step down immediately and a thorough cleansing of the electoral roll be done.

Neither the court nor the election commission nor did other political parties responded.  After continuous followup for list of deleted voters to be placed in public domain, finally on 9 January 2019 CEO Telangana shared an unsigned paper with the press declaring that 35 lakhs were deleted during NERPAP (National Electoral Revision Purification and Authentication Process) 2015 process and 24 lakhs were deleted during IRER (Intensive Revision of Electoral Rolls) 2017 process.

Yet this deleted voters information is just symbolic and incomplete. One, because the deleted voter neither comes to know the reason for deletion nor does she get to see the mandatory notice purportedly issued to voter, secondly, because voters deleted still did not find their names in either of the deleted list. Thus double genocide is committed – voter not in voter list and not in deleted list.

As per the Election Manual 2016, it is mandatory upon the entire official hierarchy that after deletions/updations right from Block Level Officer, Deputy Electoral Registration Officer, Electoral Registration Officer, District Election Officer, Deputy Chief Electoral Officer and Chief Electoral Officer to randomly check a certain percentage of votes to ascertain the quality of the electoral roll/voter list.

How to hold election officials accountable

–   If you find yourself deleted out of the voter list,  do not fill Form-6 as if you are a fresh voter, submit a representation to CEO of your state seeking restoration of your original voter id; ask for notices issues; ask for reasons why deleted; ask for deleted voter list to see your name, date and reason of deletion; demand a separate form/channel to re-register; if they insist for Form-6, demand a written statement absolving you of the crime of giving false declaration contained in form-6 that you have never been registered as voter before in any constituency;

–  Per guidelines issued by ECI Handbook, District electoral Administration shall distribute photo voter slips to each voter;  If one has not received raise a written complaint with BLO, ERO, DEO, CEO and take acknowledgement and place it in public domain;

–  If are lucky enough to find yourself on voter list (check online https://electoralsearch.in, or check with BLO, or thru official SMS) make note of your part number i.e., the polling station number with address. As per the ECI guidelines your polling station should be within 2 kms from your residence.   Raise complaint if this guideline is not complied with.

–  As per Election guidelines, unless your name is present in the photo electoral roll with polling officials in the polling booth, you cannot vote, even if you land up with your EPIC card. Whatsapp messages circulated across India about ‘Challenge’ votes are not true at all.  The fake message is that even if you do not find your name in the voter list you can still vote asking for Challenge Vote Register.

–  However, if you have lost EPIC card and still has any other photo identity proof such as PAN card, driving license, Government health card, etc. provided their name with  photo is present in the voter list you can cast their vote.

–  Importantly, don’t feel cheated if after successful entry into the polling booth with your voter name verified still another polling officer flashes that your vote has already been cast by someone else;

Ask for ‘tendered votes’.  Tendered votes is the vote taken on ballot paper entered in a separate register 17B, as those votes which have been verified by presiding officer as genuine but somehow already marked as voted in the Marked Register with polling official.  These votes figure in separate column when counting votes. However, raise a complaint.

–  If you have received voter slips from political parties with their party name and/or symbol on the voter slip, as done by AIMIM in Hyderabad MP constituency, take the same and immediately lodge complaint with the Election official of the area. It’s a crime per ECI guidelines and the party and candidate are liable to prosecution;

–  Don’t hop into vehicles arranged by political parties. Party canvassing is prohibited and liable to prosecution and punishment;  Bring this to the notice of the BLO/flying squads;

–  Don’t carry mobiles or cameras inside polling station;  It’s a crime. Report if you find anyone non-complying. Numerous voters actually took pictures of who they voted for.  Presiding Officers in Yaqutpura Hyderabad MP constituency told that he did not receive any such guidelines hence he allowed voters inside with mobiles;

–  NOTA-None of The Above, should always be one of the candidates on the ballot paper/EVM and will figure in the end of the list of candidates in fray for a particular constituency.   It should be present both in the EVMs as well as in the ballot paper whenever used.

Hence, go express yourself as part of this democracy whether for a candidate or for None of the Above(candidates) NOTA.

Dereliction of Duties

ECI has not followed its motto ‘No Voter to be Left Out’. ECI is also mandated to widely disseminate in local languages regarding NOTA.  Yet many urban and rural voters claim ignorance of NOTA.  Important issues like Tendered votes option and the compulsion that voter has to necessarily receive the voter slip from the district election machinery is not known to the voters.  They are happy to receive illegal voter slips from parties with election symbol and party name on it. Autos and vehicles ferrying voters move across the city especially in Hyderabad MP constituency.

India has gone for parliamentary elections 16 times thus far, yet we have not moved ahead from inking our fingers and registering our thumbprint or sign, all of which are prone to corruption.  We have only made our elections costlier. We now press buttons on EVMs and further complicate it with VVPAT to check who we actually pressed for and VVPAT slips needs to be counted.

Alas, Election Commission officials forget that they are on the pay-roll of the citizens of India.

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