App to enrol voters

A drop in the ocean

Print edition : April 26, 2019

Shafaq, Mohd Hilal and Khalid Saifullah, campaigners for Missing Voters. Photo: Divya Trivedi

Binu Sebastian of Kerala moved to Bengaluru in 2010 to work for an automobile company and has been living in Seegehalli, a suburb of the city that is part of Mahadevapura Assembly constituency, since 2014. With the intention to vote in the Lok Sabha elections that year, he made an online application to be enrolled as a voter, but his application was rejected. Last year, prior to the Karnataka State Assembly elections, he made another online application along with his wife, but his application was rejected again. This year he once again made an application on the National Voters Service Portal (NVSP) by filling in Form 6 to be recognised as a voter in Mahadevapura, but this has been rejected once again without any reason being provided.

“I really want to participate in these Lok Sabha elections, but I’m tired of applying. There is no proper system in place for redress, and I don’t even know why my application has been rejected,” he said.

Sebastian is one of the 3,440 adult residents of Mahadevapura whose applications for enrolment as voters have been rejected without any reason being provided. Anjali Sehni of Whitefield Rising, a non-governmental collective that works on creating awareness of civic issues, says that the group has been trying hard to enrol voters in the area but has succeeded only partially. “We are trying to understand why these applications have been rejected, but it’s unclear as no reason is given. According to the Representation of the People Act, every person has the right to vote. The procedure is that if the application is rejected, the Assistant Electoral Registration Officer in the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) should issue a show-cause notice to the applicant, giving him time to explain, but this doesn’t happen,” she said.

Unlike during the Assembly elections last year, when there were widespread complaints of voter names missing in electoral rolls, there have been no serious allegations of exclusion this time around. Yet, the rejection of 3,440 applications in Mahadevapura shows that the problem persists. “The number of voters in Karnataka has gone up from around 4.61 crore in the 2014 Lok Sabha election to around 5.1 crore in this year’s election. The electoral rolls have been updated and the list has been published. There have been no serious complaints of voter names being excluded this time,” K.N. Ramesh, Additional Chief Electoral Officer, Karnataka, told Frontline.

The problem, according to activists like Anjali Sehni, lies in the attitude of bodies like the BBMP, whose responsibility it is to properly enrol voters. “There is no predictable, transparent process of including your name on the list,” she said. “The problem is that the office of the Chief Electoral Officer in Karnataka instructs the BBMP to follow the correct procedure, but they are just not bothered. I think the solution is that surprise checks should be conducted to see if voters’ names have been incorporated. That’s the only solution.”

There were also serious allegations last year just before the Assembly elections that lakhs of Muslim and Dalit voters’ names were missing from voter lists. The basis for the allegation was the work done by Khalid Saifullah, a software engineer, who compared data from Census of India with the State’s electoral rolls to show discrepancies. Not satisfied with just identifying the problem, Saifullah went a step ahead by starting a movement to enrol voters. Over the past few months, Saifullah’s team of volunteers have been working on the ground in many parts of the country to enrol Muslim citizens in the electoral process through a mobile application called the “Missing Voters App”.

The results have been encouraging. Saifullah has managed to enrol around 41,943 applicants in the voter list from all over the country. This is like a drop in the ocean, considering that his findings showed that lakhs of Muslims and Dalits were excluded from the electoral rolls. Still, it is a commendable effort. “In Karnataka, we have enrolled more than 8,000 voters,” Saifullah said.

Anjam Sheriff, a volunteer who worked for Saifullah’s venture in Bengaluru’s Nagarbhavi area, said that around 300 Muslim voters were identified in her campaign. “Our team worked for a month, and we identified 15-20 Muslim voters every day. We sent in the data to the office in Hyderabad where the online applications were made,” she said. One of the beneficiaries of this volunteer-driven initiative is Shahid Pasha, a 21-year-old student living in Shivajinagar in Bengaluru. “Volunteers from Saifullah’s team reached out to me and enrolled me as a voter. I have received my voter ID, although I haven’t yet received the EPIC [Elector’s Photo Identity Card]. I’m excited to vote for the first time as I couldn’t vote in the 2018 Assembly elections because my name was not on the list,” he said.

 

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