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Vol. XXXIV No. 2, May 1-15, 2024

Low Voter Turnout – Is it solely due to Voter Apathy?

-- by Varsha V.

On April 5, the Election Commission (EC) convened a meeting at New Delhi with Municipal Commissioners and District Election Officers (DEOs) from select districts. Chaired by Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, the conference was aimed at augmenting voter turnout in parliamentary constituencies by increasing engagement and creating the conditions for voters to be self-motivated in exercising their franchise. Various ideas were outlined as part of the Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) programme, such as hosting events at public spaces, collaborating with residents’ associations, leveraging social media and more. The event was attended by Chennai officials too. They identified areas in the city with historically low polling percentages and rolled out multiple campaigns ranging from outreach to student clubs and residents’ associations to rallies and signature drives. Despite the efforts, the Lok Sabha Election 2024 held on April 19 saw disappointingly low voter turnouts in all three of the city’s parliamentary constituencies. Data released by the Election Commission shows that Chennai had an overall polling percentage of 55.94, a number lower than the 2019 Lok Sabha Election which saw a polling percentage of 60.16. (It is to be noted at this juncture that the final figures for 2024 were a revision of an initial report that had recorded higher percentages; the alteration is said to be due to an erroneous extrapolation from sample numbers that was later corrected.)

The low turnout has been attributed to multiple causes; urban apathy ranks at the top of the list, followed by the impact of floating population (ie) voters who have migrated to other cities; the sizzling heat; and the fact that the election was held on a Friday, prompting the surmise that some may have chosen to simply take an extended weekend vacation ­instead of casting their votes. Apropos  the SVEEP campaign, DEO and GCC Commissioner J. Radhakrishnan points out that the results may have been even lower if not for those efforts. The Hindu quotes him thus, “The reasons will be analysed. Without the SVEEP campaign, the number of votes could have been lower. In the long run, officials expect a possible increase in the level of awareness among citizens on the importance of voting.”

While an official analysis is to be welcomed, the question arises whether awareness campaigns are enough to bring people to voting booths – the argument can be made that there is much scope to actively educate voters on their rights as well as the various processes and redress available to guide them. This year, for instance, there were quite  a few complaints that booths were assigned in far-off locations, making it hard for voters to travel  in the scorching heat. The voter rolls themselves turned out to be a much bigger problem, with  many reporting that they were not included in the list. In fact, some of the missing names  included even those who had not changed their residence. “I went along with the entire family,  but my brother alone was not able to vote,” says Abdul (name changed). “We were not informed  earlier that his name was struck from the rolls, so he returned home while the rest of us cast our votes.  We didn’t know what else to do.” Perhaps this could have been avoided if his brother had checked the  roll for his name in advance; but this is a practice that is not quite common, though it should be.  Further, it is strange that voter information can disappear without any official communication to the affected;  a piece in Citizen Matters points out that ECI Guidelines mandate Block Level Officers to visit voters for  verification and issue notices if there are changes. It is safe to assume that this has not been implemented efficiently.

Another process that seems to have received the short end of the stick is that of the postal ballot.  This is meant to be a viable recourse for those who cannot be present in person at the booth – apart  from service voters and electors on election duty, even absentee voters prevented by work commitments, illness or disability are eligible to cast postal ballots. This could have been a way to encourage travelling populations to exercise their rights. However, this does not seem to have been pushed as much. In fact, news reports surfaced in April revealing that a ‘communication error’  had made it hard for cops and railway employees to cast their votes.

Given the above, it seems rather unfair to blame the bulk of low voter turnout on apathy; after all, who’s to say that the prevailing disinterest isn’t a byproduct of the process inefficiencies? Awareness campaigns must pierce the surface to help educate voters and actively gather feedback on the barriers to improve the voting process. Chennai can do

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  1. Rangarajan. S.v. says:

    It is a sad issue that the voters turned is very lessevery time. Some suggestions.
    1]Voter card is to be linked .
    2] voting should be made easy to all above 60 years,
    3]Postal ballot should be given to all citizens from 60 years .
    4] Those who are in foreign country for visit to their family members during election.
    5]voting by online may be done.

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