UP's attraction: four crore first-time voters

The state government is using innovative mechanisms to bring the first-time voters to the polling booth

shivangi-narayan

Shivangi Narayan | April 3, 2014



Uttar Pradesh is no longer just the state with the highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha. “62 percent of the population [around 12.4 crore] in UP is eligible to vote in this election,” says K. Vijayendra Pandian, additional chief electoral officer, Uttar Pradesh. “A substantial number, four crore, are going to be fresh voters.”

The state government is all set to draw this large number of voters through the Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) campaign which would incorporate a mix of out-of-home media advertisements, community education, awareness programmes and social media campaigns. The last addition is especially to woo the fresh voters.

“SVEEP was launched in 2009 by the central government when the turnout fell to a dismal 47 percent in the Lok Sabha elections. Now, voters in the state are being educated to participate in huge numbers through the UP leg of the campaign,” Pandian says.

Many rallies and engagement events have been organised by the state under SVEEP. The Facebook page of UP's election commission, "Voice of Voters," which aims to educate the voters, has got 10,000 likes -- which shows its popularity index among the voters.

“Voters can put their queries or suggestions on the page. We periodically take a look at the page and reply to the citizens. Many queries are answered directly by the chief electoral officer, UP, Umesh Sinha,” he says.

SVEEP is currently running the voter-quotient quiz where participants are tested on their electoral knowledge. The participant to successfully complete all the three stages would be given a souvenir and titled as ‘enlightened voter’. 

The social media presence of SVEEP would remain limited only to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Though Whatsapp, a messaging app quite popular amongst youngsters, the government is not using it to reach out to the people. “It is easy to control malicious content on Facebook and Twitter as they block the contested pages on request, which is not possible with Whatsapp.”

However, with apt control mechanism and the ability to control false spread of information, voters might be wooed through Whatsapp in this election.

If the turnout in Delhi, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan assembly election is any indication, voter participation in the country is expected to be high this year. According to Pandian, however, there is no correlation between the turnouts in assembly, panchayat and Lok Sabha elections in India.

“Candidates and voters know each other in assembly as well as panchayat elections and there is a relationship between them, resulting in people coming out to vote for these candidates,” Pandian says. This is not the case in the Lok Sabha elections.”

Though rural turnout is not a problem, it is the urban apathy towards Lok Sabha elections, which needs to be curbed. “Urban dwellers treat election day as just another holiday. SVEEP has been launched to counter that.”

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