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Saturday, December 29, 2001

Elections to MCH are round the corner. After a long gap of 15 years, blatant violation of the Constitution and a judicial directive, elections have been finally announced! Elections are vital to democracy. Unfortunately our electoral process is severely flawed. I am not talking merely of inducements, impersonation, intimidation, and myriad other things we talk of in our drawing rooms - but of flaws in the electoral rolls. Electoral rolls are the heart of an election and if they are flawed the whole process is perverted. Our survey conducted in 2000 revealed that in Hyderabad there were 40% errors in the electoral rolls and in general the errors are 44.8% in urban areas and 14.3% in the rural areas. What do these defects really mean? To give an illustration - in the recent US Presidential election, George Bush won by only a margin of 500 votes (0.0005%) in an election where 100 million voted. Before every election the Election Commission (EC) announces a revision of voter rolls, when additions and deletions are made. Apart from being the time when citizens enroll, it is also the opportune time when zealous party workers enroll a number of fictitious names and delete many an inconvenient name. A few years ago when Mr Krishnamurthy, the then Election Commission went to cast his vote, he could not find his name in the voters’ list! There are 13% such names missing in Hyderabad! But the lists also contain at least 26% that need to be deleted. No wonder we have such large-scale impersonation. In the recent Assembly elections in W Bengal, 35% of the callers to the Lok Satta Help Line complained that somebody already voted in their name.

 The present voter registration and correction process is extremely complicated and inaccessible. Go to any developed democracy and a voter can enroll his/her name or remove a dead person’s name at the local post office or similar agency. All you need is some simple form of identification! It is important that voter rolls be available in the neighborhood post office for easy verification. Lok Satta has succeeded in persuading the EC to make the post office the nodal agency for verification and registering of names. This makes great practical sense especially in rural areas where everybody knows everybody and wrong entries can be immediately identified. A post office is generally a citizen-friendly, honest institution with a culture of across-the-counter service. It is an ideal center for voter registration. It wouldn’t require the massive effort of an organization like Lok Satta to discover the inclusion of a person who died 50 years ago! The residents would be able to immediately identify the ineligible, the non-resident and unqualified persons.

This is a very simple change but will have far-reaching implications in cleansing and transforming our electoral process. Many far-reaching changes often result from seemingly simple innovations. For instance, the bi-forked needle made smallpox immunization far more effective and acceptable, and helped eradicate the dreaded disease. But then any such change to be effective requires active civic participation and cooperation. The recent drive in Hyderabad to cleanse the electoral rolls was only a moderate success. We, the citizens, should get together and work towards effecting the change.