1999-2000 the Lok Satta Movement conducted a large sample
survey covering 57 polling stations in 23 districts in AP,
with a sample size of 40,399 voters enrolled. Volunteers
visited every household in the localities of the selected
polling stations and verified the accuracy of voter registration.
This study revealed an appalling picture, hitherto undiscovered.
In rural areas, 10.34% of the names entered in the voters'
list were found to be wrongful inclusions requiring deletion
on account of death, migration or other reasons.
a large number of eligible persons residing in the area,
constituting 4.7% of the registered voters, were not registered
as voters. Note that while the total errors of commission
and omission are over 15% of the registered voters, the
net error would appear to be 5.6% (10.3% deletions required,
less 4.7% additions required). In urban areas, the errors
were even more egregious - 26% of the names on electoral
rolls needed to be deleted, whereas 19% needed to be registered
as voters. Again the magnitude of distortion is masked
by the net picture: overall, there is only an excess of
7% names! Other studies confirmed a similar disturbing
pattern in other states.
current registration has a major flaw. It is the state machinery
which sets the time and place of registration. The citizen
does not initiate the voter registration process, and people
have no knowledge of procedures, or easy access to voter
Ramayya, a farm worker, wants to know whether his name is
enrolled, and if not, he wishes to register as a voter,
he has to go through the following steps. First he has to
go to tehsil/mandal office, seek information about the part
number (of his polling station), fee to be paid, and the
head of account to which it should be remitted. Then go
to the nearest sub-treasury and pay the amount by challan
and go back to his mandal office and ask for the voters'
list. He must then verify the name, and if it is not included,
ask for two copies of Form 6, apply in duplicate and wait
for the electoral registration officer (ERO) to publish
it on the notice board calling for objections. The ERO will
then hear objections and include the name if all is in order.
a cursory glance at these procedures makes one breathless!
And Ramayya cannot apply for inclusion of others' names.
They all must individually submit applications! No wonder,
voter registration is in a mess. In fact, it is a miracle
that so many of us are able to vote!
bureaucratic solutions cannot provide answers. We need to
involve citizens on a permanent basis. Make voter registration
accessible, simple, transparent, citizen-friendly, and fair.
Make the neighbourhood post office the nodal agency for
have about 250,000 post offices all over India, which function
efficiently and are easily accessible. Moreover, the post
office is the only public institution which is approached
by ordinary citizens without fear or anxiety! If voter rolls
are available locally for perusal or purchase, and the post
office is made the nodal agency for voter registration and
correction of defects, there will be a dramatic improvement.
Using post offices for voter registration is not something
that is radically new. It is a time-tested model. For example,
in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hong Kong, the
post office is effectively used for voter registration.
Even in Kerala the postal network was used for verification
of electoral rolls and it met with great success.
the answer is simple, why can't we change things? For five
years the Lok Satta has been urging the EC and postal authorities
to act. After mountains of paper work, the EC and postal
officials were convinced. But the matter was stalled for
long because they were both debating who should write to
whom first! Finally, after much persuasion, they met and
decided in principle to make post office the nodal agency
for voter registration. But this is yet to be implemented.
Meanwhile, all this pressure led to some improvements. The
EC directed that voter lists should be read out in gram
sabhas and ward sabhas, and applications collected locally.
In AP alone 6.45 million names were deleted, and 2.52 million
new voters were registered, making it a record 8.97 million
corrections in just one state!
latest voting fiasco must open our eyes to the easily remediable
flaws in our electoral process. Making the post office the
nodal agency for voter registration on a permanent basis,
with easy access to electoral rolls to all citizens in the
locality is a simple, elegant, inexpensive, citizen-friendly
solution. Any error of registration by the post office can
be corrected on appeal. This improvement can be effected
by the EC itself, and no change of law is required. The
postal department can raise revenues by selling voters'
lists and individual voter slips and by collecting a small
fee for each correction incorporated. The EC can compensate
post offices for their services during the revision of rolls.
have grown accustomed to blaming politicians for everything
that is wrong. But there are many things our constitutional
authorities can do with vigour and dynamism. Somehow, much
of our public discourse is focused on grandstanding, ignoring
small, but vital improvements. Between the little things
we won't do, and the big things we cannot do, we often end
up doing nothing! Is it too much to ask the EC and postal
authorities to act swiftly, and solve this simple problem?