Lok Satta

Thursday, 05 February 2009 07:09

Voter Registration

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Article Index
Voter Registration
Latter to Chief Election Commissioner
Annexure- 1
Annexure- 2
Annexure- 3
Annexure- 4
All Pages

Citizen-friendly Voter Registration through Post Offices

1. One of the easily remediable defects in our electoral process pertains to voter registration. News media are full of stories of people who went to polling booths on election day only to discover that their names had not been enrolled as voters. Objective surveys reveal that there are far too many defects in electoral rolls.

2. The first large sample survey of electoral rolls was conducted by Lok Satta in Andhra Pradesh in 2000. 40,399 voters in 56 randomly chosen polling stations and their households all over the State were surveyed. Volunteers visited each household covered by the polling station, and verified the accuracy of electoral rolls. Errors of Commission (appearance of ineligible, dead or fictitious names in voter registers), and errors of omission (deletion of names of eligible persons who are residing in the area) have been carefully noted. This survey revealed 15.10% errors in rural areas (10.34% ineligible names, and 4.7% non-registration of eligible names). In urban areas, 44.8% errors were noted (26% ineligible names, and 18.9% non-registration of eligible names). Annexure-1 gives the details of the survey findings. Smaller sample surveys elsewhere in India confirmed similar picture.

3. Based on this survey, the Election Commission (EC) was alerted about the magnitude of errors in voter registration. Since then, the Commission took several proactive steps to improve electoral rolls. The services of post offices were utilized in carrying out summary and intensive revisions of electoral rolls; in rural areas, voter lists were read out in Gram Sabhas during revision exercise; in urban areas residents’ welfare associations were involved; and Election Commission officials mounted special campaigns to clean up electoral rolls in select areas. As a result of all these efforts, the quality of electoral rolls has improved significantly.

4. In 2004, Lok Satta conducted another massive survey of 111,890 voters in 112 polling stations spread over 59 Assembly Constituencies. This time, the errors in voter registration in rural areas were of the order of 5.25%, and in urban areas there were 12.15% errors. While there is a clear improvement, defects in electoral rolls to a tune of 12.15% are far too many to sustain the health of our electoral process. (Details are in Annexure-2). Lok Satta and Janagraha conducted a survey of one ward in Bangalore in 2005. The error margin was even greater, often exceeding 50% (Details are in Annexure -3). In 2005, Lok Satta verified the electoral rolls in Sanatnagar Assembly Constituency in Hyderabad city. On a survey of 153923 voters in 182 polling stations, 15.9% errors were detected. (Details are in Annexure-4)

5. In theory, the voter registration process is simple. The Election Commission prepares new rolls and revises the existing electoral rolls from time to time. The rolls are revised before every general election to the Lok Sabha and Assembly. They may also be revised on the instructions of the Election Commission before a bye-election. Theoretically additions and changes in the Electoral Rolls can be made at any time, but in reality accessing the electoral rolls at ordinary times is a vary painstaking process. When special revisions are not called for, the voters’ list may be checked only at the office of the taluk revenue officer or in the municipal office. And once the elections are announced and the election process is underway, changes are difficult to make. Legally, additions and deletions may be made until just before the deadline for filing nominations. But from a practical viewpoint, it is best to have one’s name included or any changes made when the Election Commission calls for such periodic revisions. The Election Commission publicises through the local press the dates for such revisions. However, in this process of revision carried out by the Election Commission, the citizens’ role is largely passive. Nor is it easy for citizens to effect corrections in rolls.

6. Voter lists are prepared for each assembly constituency in the local official language. The list for each Assembly Constituency is divided into ‘parts’. Each ‘part’ pertains to a polling booth. Each assembly constituency (assigned a constituency number) and each polling booth (part number) are numbered for easy access and retrieval of information. The names of voters in each ‘part’ (polling booth) of the roll are arranged according to house numbers and their names and numbered consecutively. Usually a ‘part’ of the roll represents a defined geographical area. But sometimes the male and female voters may be segregated, and in such cases members of the same household may be listed in two different parts.

7. Usually the local revenue official (tehsildar) is the person in charge of the electoral registration process. During this process he is called the Assistant Electoral Registration Officer (AERO), and he functions under his superior (sub-divisional magistrate or revenue divisional officer), who is called the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO). The District Magistrate / Collector / Deputy Commissioner is the District Election Officer under whose supervision electoral rolls are prepared and published. In cities of certain States, the electoral registration work may be entrusted to municipal corporation officials. The electoral registration officials prepare the rolls based on birth and death registers, field surveys, door-to-door enumeration and other available information. The electoral roll contains the names of the voters and details such as the name of the father / husband, age, and residential address. Generally the age of the voter is noted as on January 1 of the year in which the revision is carried out. If the voters’ list is prepared after April, the age as on April 1 is noted. As soon as the electoral roll for a constituency is ready, the registration officer publishes (displays in his office and such other places as may be prescribed by the Election Commission) the draft by making a copy of it available for inspection and displaying a notice to the public. The E C widely publicises the release of revised electoral rolls. Two copies of each electoral roll are supplied to recognized political parties free of cost. As per law the draft electoral roll should be displayed at each polling booth (the concerned “part’) in each village to provide an opportunity for the people to examine it. The E C expects all objections to be made at that time. However, the Electoral Rolls are not displayed everywhere and officers discharge their duties in a casual and perfunctory manner and the people's involvement in the revision of electoral rolls is minimal.

8. Because it is difficult to make changes to the electoral rolls once the revision is completed, it is best to add or delete names during the update undertaken by the Election Commission. Citizens can then inspect the electoral rolls, and if they find that their names are missing, they can file claims for inclusion in Form 6. If there is any objection to the inclusion of a name in a roll, then an objection can be filed in Form 7 by any person whose name is already included in that roll. Every change to the details in an entry in the roll (spelling, age, name of father, address, gender, etc.) shall be filed in Form 8 by the voter. Similarly a request for change of polling station (part number) is filed in Form 8A by the voter; and a request for deletion of entry due to death, migration etc., should be filed by any enrolled voter in Form 8B.

 

Different Forms for Different Purposes
Form No. Purpose
6 Inclusion of name
7 Objection to inclusion of name
8 Change of any entry (name, spelling, age, gender etc.)
8 A Change of polling station within the constituency, Change of polling station outside the constituency
8B Deletion of entry due to death or migration

 

9. All such objections and requests should be filed before the due date prescribed by the     EC. The registration officer then holds a summary inquiry into every such claim and objection after giving seven days’ notice to the applicant and the public, and will record his decision. The registration officer may also correct the electoral rolls by including names inadvertently omitted, or deleting names of persons who died or persons who have ceased to be ordinarily residents of the area but who have been included by mistake. The final electoral roll including a list of amendments is then published. This final electoral roll is the one used for the election.

10. This process appears very fair and reasonable. However, in reality, citizens have very little knowledge of the process, nor do they have access to voter lists or appropriate forms for filing claims or objections. Therefore, by default the voters' list carries many errors of omission and commission. Many eligible names are excluded but many names of dead persons, people who no longer reside in the area or ineligible [under-aged, etc.,] or fictitious persons find place. It is this huge margin of error and inaccessibility of the voters' lists and the bureaucratic registration process which make our electoral rolls very defective.

11. All such errors could, in theory, be corrected at any time after final publication of electoral rolls. The citizens can file appropriate applications in duplicate at any time before the last day for filing nominations in an election. But this process is very cumbersome, non-transparent, inaccessible and generally ineffective. The first difficulty arises with the availability of Electoral Rolls. As explained above, at the time of revision of electoral rolls, the E C publishes (displays) the voter list in select offices. But if the voter wishes to access Electoral Rolls to verify whether or not his name finds place in the Electoral Rolls, he should then obtain a copy of the voters' list for the polling booth (Part) / Constituency. These voters' lists are available with the electoral registration officials and will be supplied for a small fee usually equivalent to charges for photo copying. Very often citizens are unaware of this procedure. People may not know where to obtain electoral rolls, they do not know the fee payable, they often do not even know the Constituency Number and the Part Number for which they need Electoral Rolls. In a city, people may not even know where the Electoral Registration Office is located. Moreover, in many States one cannot even pay a fee in cash to obtain the Electoral Rolls. People may have to go to the nearest government Treasury office (Most people wouldn't know where the Treasury is located. Villagers would have to go to Tashil Headquarters.) and make the payment by a challan, which itself is a long drawn out process. In order to make a payment by challan, the citizen needs a proper application and she should also know the appropriate Head of Account to which the fee is to be remitted. All this means that ordinary citizens will not be able to access electoral rolls by following this tortuous bureaucratic process.

12. If by a miracle, a citizen does manage to get a copy of the Electoral Roll and finds her name missing, or a dead person's name is included, she will then have to apply in the appropriate form. The forms should be available with the Electoral Registration Officer. But most often either these forms are not available or even if available, they may not be in the local language. And once the form is obtained, the application should be made in duplicate. The Electoral Registration Officer will then acknowledge it, publish the application on notice board, give seven days’ time to file objections, and accept or reject the application with reasons. In effect, the inaccessibility and non-transparency of the process are such that almost nobody cares to invoke these provisions. As with all governmental procedures, inclusion of one's name (if missing in the electoral rolls) is a rather painstaking process. There is no safe mail-in provision. Each application has to be filed personally by the individual applying or it should be sent by post.  Bulk applications are not accepted either.

13. The process of inclusion or deletion of a name in reality is totally inaccessible to the common man. Even an educated person has to be a highly motivated citizen willing to spare a lot of energy, time, money and effort in order to verify the electoral roll and register the name. Not surprisingly, electoral rolls are often flawed. A large number of errors creep in because of the sheer magnitude of operation, and bureaucratic ineptness and lethargy. There have been times when Ministers, MLAs and even Election Commission officials could not find their own names in the Rolls. Even with the best of intentions, it is hard to ensure accuracy of rolls in a country with sizeable poor, illiterate and homeless populations. Sometimes errors may be deliberate. Many names of eligible persons are often struck out from the voters lists. This is usually done at the behest of powerful politicians or caste leaders in order to disenfranchise voters who may vote against their wishes. In the guise of revision or correction, sometimes the government / party in power may delete names of people who are not likely to vote for them or add fictitious or ineligible names in order to indulge in bogus voting. This is possible as the administrative machinery in charge of voter registration is controlled by the elected government.

14. Clearly, the integrity of the electoral rolls is at the heart of the legitimacy of an electoral system. If the legitimate voters are not on the rolls, then citizens’ sovereignty and right to participate in election are undermined. If ineligible or bogus names appear, then democracy becomes a plaything of manipulators and professional vote mobilizers through personation. Happily, cleaning up the electoral rolls is a simple and easily achievable goal with people’s participation and transparency. Within the current law, change of rules and procedures to provide easy access to electoral rolls for all citizens, and institutionalization of simple, citizen-friendly, transparent, verifiable and accountable processes for voter registration are eminently feasible. Some efforts have been made recently to digitize electoral rolls, and accept applications for registration etc., online. However, the challenge is to design a simple process which is universally applicable, and can be accessed by the poorest citizens in the farthest corners.

15. We have in India over 150,000 post offices spread all over the country, making it the most effective nation-wide network of any government agency. Of all the government agencies, the post office is probably the most trusted and citizen-friendly organization. Even the poorest and most powerless citizens are not intimidated by the post office, and are in the habit of accessing postal services. Postal personnel are also known to be generally friendly and courteous, with very little corruption or abuse of public trust. A culture of public service, high level of efficiency (considering the complexity of transmitting mail in our country), low cost of handling, time-bound availability, predictability of services, and intimate knowledge of local residents are the unmatched advantages enjoyed by the post offices. It is very simple and easy to involve post offices in the process of voter registration and correction of electoral rolls on application in the period between the revisions carried out by the EC.

16. Already, the EC is increasingly utilizing the services of post offices for a variety of purposes related to revision of electoral rolls. For instance, voter rolls are displayed in post offices. Postal personnel are deployed in verification of applications in many States. These interventions of post offices have been highly successful. However, their impact on electoral rolls has been marginal because of three reasons: the people have not been adequately informed of the facility; the involvement of post offices is limited only to revision exercises of electoral rolls, and is not a permanent one; and post offices are not offering any voter registration service to the local people.

17. In addition to increasing digitization and technology-intensive solutions, accuracy of voter registration and people’s participation can be dramatically improved by making the local post office (all branch post offices as well as sub post offices) the nodal agency for voter registration. Convergence of services is now an accepted feature of public institutions in the developed world. In Germany, the citizen approaches only the local municipal/country office even for obtaining a passport. In India too, citizens can now get passport applications at the post office, and renewal applications are accepted through post office. Post office is providing many services like insurance and savings. In many states in the US, the citizen simply registers her name as a voter at the local post office by proving identity and residence. In Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and several other countries too, post office plays a proactive role in voter registration.  In many countries, locally accessible public institutions like post offices, town halls and public libraries are actively involved in permanent voter registration.

18. There is a compelling case to make all the post offices – sub-post offices as well as branch post offices – the nodal agencies for voter registration. With 155,000 delivery outlets, each post office will cater to about 7000 population or about 4500 voters on an average, which is the equivalent of three or four local polling stations. The process of voter registration can be made transparent, verifiable and self-correcting by involving post offices in the following activities: Display of electoral rolls pertaining to the polling station areas served by the post office. Sale of

electoral rolls of those polling stations for a reasonable price. Sale of statutory forms for inclusion, deletion or correction of names (forms 6, 7, 8, 8A and 8B). Receipt of applications with acknowledgement Verification based on post office’s data bank as well as local enquiries and knowledge of local residents for a processing fee collected from the applicant. Registration of voter’s name, deletion or correction, or rejection of application at the post office level – with a provision for appeal to the Electoral Registration Officer. Intimation to the applicant about the decision on the application Display and sale of addendum containing revisions along with electoral rolls.

19. These can be entrusted to post offices merely by giving orders under existing law and rules. The Election Commission through an executive order, can appoint persons as Assistant Electoral Registration Officers (AEROs) to assist the Electoral Registration Officers (EROs), as per 13-C of RP Act (1950). The post masters or Branch post masters of all delivery post offices can be designated/appointed as AEROs on a permanent basis for the polling station areas under their jurisdiction, for intensive, summary or special revisions as ordered by the Election Commission from time to time.  The designated AEROs can receive and process applications and claims and register voters or delete names or correct entries after following due process as per Rules 14 to 22 and Rule 26 of the Registration of Electors Rules (1960).  All such corrections shall be displayed at the post office and incorporated in the electoral roll for the polling station.  A provision can be made in the procedures to ensure that the AERO furnishes a monthly return to the Electoral Registration Officer of the Assembly Constituency, so that the electoral rolls can be updated at the constituency level.  The final list prepared by the AERO at the polling station level will be the final and authoritative list of electors at the time of election.  Complete transparency and provision for appeal will act as effective safeguards against abuse of the process.  The additional workload on the post office on account of these services will be minimal.  Most activities like display, sale and receipt of forms can be handled across the counter.  Local verification of applications is the only field level task, and the postal staff are eminently suited to undertake this function.   The postal department needs to be involved in the whole exercise very closely, and a reasonable fee structure needs to be evolved to compensate postal employees as well as the department.  A revenue-generating structure for corrections between two revisions is suggested below:

 

No

Service/Function

Suggested charge to be recovered by the Post Office from the citizen

1 Display of electoral rolls pertaining to the polling station areas served by the post office Free of cost.

2

Sale of electoral rolls of those polling stations

For a standard price across the country of Rs. 10 per copy for polling station.

3

Sale of statutory forms for inclusion, deletion or correction of names (forms 6, 7, 8, 8A and 8B)

Re. 1 per copy

4

Receipt of applications/ forms with acknowledgement.

Processing of application including verification based on post office’s data bank as well as local enquiries and knowledge of local residents.

A reasonable amount, not exceeding Rs. 5 per application.

5.

Actual registration of voter’s name, deletion or correction, or rejection of application at the post office level – with a provision for appeal to the Electoral Registration Officer

Covered by the processing fee (above).

6

Intimation to the applicant about the decision on the application

Covered by the processing fee (above).

7

Display of addendum containing revisions along with electoral rolls

Free of cost.

 

Those citizens who do not wish to pay a fee can still avail those services as now – through revenue or municipal offices.   The Election Commission needs to issue executive orders permitting collection of the above fees from citizens who seek those services.

The voter registration-related activities will thus be an important source of revenue to post offices, considering the large number of elections with common electoral rolls – Lok Sabha, State Legislative Assembly, and local Panchayat or Municipality.  (In many states, the Assembly electoral rolls are adopted for local governments also).


20. Making post offices nodal agencies for voter registration will be the single most important, least-cost, most effective measure to improve the integrity of the electoral rolls and involve citizens as active participants in the electoral process.  Such a change can be effected by appropriate executive orders of the Election Commission.