[2008-05-12] Disenfranchisement

I went with great enthusiasm this 10th of May to the nearest polling booth to cast my vote in the current elections here, only to discover that I could not vote since my name was not present in the voters' list. This was despite the fact that I had a valid Electoral Photographic Identity Card (EPIC) issued just a couple of years ago. My name just does not appear in the revised voters' list that was drawn after the recent delimitation of constituencies in Karnataka. I had to come back home disappointed.

When you consider the incredibly small impact that a single vote has on the outcome of an election, you might be tempted to ask "Why vote?". Given that the Congress, the BJP and the Janata Dal (S) are realistically the only parties that will be able to form a government in Karnataka and given their utterly shameless behaviour to grab power the last time round, it is natural for us to be dejected or at best feel apathetic towards this election. Some of us just don't want to take the trouble of going to a polling booth, standing in a queue and casting a vote.

However, democracy is how we have chosen to be governed in this country and voting in an election is the very least we can do to make sure it works as intended. The effect of a single vote might be negligible but the cumulative effect is considerable and is for the greater good of the society. It then feels like a shameful subversion of the democratic process when the names of willing and eligible voters go missing from the electoral rolls and they are thus disenfranchised.

Anyone even slightly familiar with a voters' list in India would agree that there are usually a lot of appalling mistakes in it. It is not uncommon to find a lot of people missing from a voters' list despite having valid EPICs and a lot of people who have long since died still lingering on in the list. Many people have had their names misspelt or their addresses mangled. For example, the last EPIC that I had managed to get everything about me (except my photograph and my sex) wrong in one way or another - it had incorrect entries for my name, my father's name, my address, my date of birth, etc. So I was not completely surprised to find my name missing from the voters' list, but I was surely disappointed.

Update (2009-04-22): This article in The Times of India offers a possible explanation for the mystery of vanishing names from the electoral rolls.

(Originally posted on Blogspot.)

Other Posts from 2008