EC innovation is behind Gujarat's record voter turnout

Voter slip distribution, arrangements for on-duty staff make a difference

bvrao

BV Rao | December 16, 2012




The unprecedentedly high level of voting in the first phase of assembly elections in Gujarat comes from equally unprecedented measures the
election commission took to encourage citizens to cast their votes.
On December 13, Saurashtra, Kutch and south-central Gujarat voted with a bang – registering close to 71 percent. The second phase polling, on
December 17, promises to be no different, and in fact state chief election officer (CEO) Anita Karwal says it may even go higher. For comparison, the 2007 assembly polls saw approximately 62 percent polling and the highest turnout ever witnessed was 64% in 1995.
The figure comes as a surprise because there is no wave: as one villager put it, this is not a “jorawar” (power-packed, big-time) election like the previous two editions which Narendra Modi won. Then what explains the figure?
Talking to a cross-section of officers and activists, it seems that these unprecedented administrative measures taken to encourage citizens
have born fruit.
This time, district administrations distributed election slips to all voters, bearing their photographs and also mentioning their
polling station and other details. Earlier, a similar slip (without photo) used to be distributed by political parties, but not all
information was displayed there. This has made a huge difference.
People have no confusion now, and those without voters’ ID card too could go and cast their votes,” said a state officer from Rajkot,
speaking on condition of anonymity.
Another measure was the push for votes of the government employees on election duty. “Earlier, there was the provision of postal ballots for
them but police and homegaurd personnel going out of district on duty would forget returning their postal ballot. This time, last week, there was a separate polling for them at taluka headquarters, they cast their votes and left for duty in Saurashtra,” a senior officer from Vadodara told Governance Now on phone.
Moreover, for teachers and district administration staff on election duty, drop boxes were put up during their training camps to collect their postal ballots. Not only that, “if they have forgotten to cast their votes, we will put up drop boxes again when they come on Sunday (December 16) to collect election material,” the officer said.
The officer also pointed out that a series of voter awareness campaign, from the election commission as well as citizen forums, also made a big difference.
“The CEO has issued an appeal to all citizens, but also written letters to the central PSUs requesting them to forward the appeal to their employees. Schools have campaigned for a pledge from the students to tell their parents about the importance of every vote. In Vadodara, we had a Walk for a Healthy Democracy, there were prabhat pheris (traditional hymn-singing in morning through streets). Even newspapers have been carrying the campaign asking readers to vote,” the officer said. “Such efforts did not happen earlier.”
The election commission, in particular, has reached out to small towns-–where even main parties did not have hoardings-–and put up banners
inviting those who turned 18 after the last elections to enlist themselves as voters.
Wave or no wave, for Modi or against, that will be the talking point after December 20. But before that, three cheers for the election administration!

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