- NL Sena
EVM malfunctions and voter intimidation are major issues.
Alongside the Lok Sabha polls, questioning the authenticity of EVMs has become a regular feature in India’s political history. Suspicions that they’re unreliable and hackable—among both voters and politicians—have only grown over the years. This year has been no exception.
Given the extensive penetration of social media in the contemporary milieu, it is not surprising that voter frustration during this mammoth election process finds visibility on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. There has been a dramatic wave of complaints crashing into the Twitter DMs of the stoically unresponsive Election Commission, and a team of students from the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication, under the guidance of their professor, has been monitoring it all.
iVote, a citizen journalism data tracking project in collaboration with Newslaundry, aims to record instances of voter suppression across the seven phases of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. During each phase, the states going to polls are divided among eight students who scan Twitter, and Facebook, as well as instances sent in via WhatsApp and emails through the course of the day for citizen reports indicating forms of voter suppression. The data points are then placed on a map—updated as soon as each phase ends—on the project’s website.
Over the first four phases, the team documented nearly 600 reports of voter suppression across the country. These range from EVM glitches to instances of intimidation and name deletions.
The team has recorded 1,092 instances of EVM malfunctions across the four phases, with Uttar Pradesh accounting for nearly half of these cases (48.35 per cent). Over the four phases, an increase of 39.52 per cent in the number of glitches reported was also found, with Phase 1 recording 296 cases and Phase 4 accounting for 413 cases.
There were also increasing reports of voters turning away without exercising their franchise owing to severe delays caused by these EVM malfunctions.
The team specifically monitored citizen reports that claimed that their VVPAT results were not aligned to the votes they cast on the EVM machines. These cases were found in Assam, Bihar, Maharashtra, Kerala, Odisha, Jammu & Kashmir, and Goa across the four phases.
Other than an isolated instance in Purnia, Bihar, where on clicking the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen button on the EVM the vote was transferred to Janata Dal (United), all other reports (five out of six confirmed cases) collected by the team revealed that vote transfers occurred in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
There were also cases of voter intimidation recorded by the team. Of the 50 cases recorded, 73.91 per cent were vote securing tactics by the BJP, while 26.08 per cent were coercive attempts aimed at benefiting the Congress. These attempts ranged from subtle efforts such as polling agents wearing the names of BJP candidates on badges inside booths, to more blatant forms like Congress supporters attempting to bribe voters outside polling stations. There were more aggressive forms of intimidation recorded as well, like that of a case where a woman from Lakhimpur, Uttar Pradesh, claimed that a polling officer attempted to force her to vote for the BJP.
There were also 19 reports of violence leading to not only injury but also death recorded by the team, with the maximum reports coming in from West Bengal, followed by Jammu & Kashmir, Assam and Uttar Pradesh.
The team also recorded cases where voters’ names were wrongfully missing from the voting rolls. There were 1,027 cases that the team came across in the four phases, and Phase 3 exhibited the highest number at 778 cases.
There were some bizarre cases documented as well. For instance, an individual’s father in Sivaganga, Tamil Nadu, during Phase 2, who was standing alive and well at the booth was declared dead by the presiding officer and hence denied the right to vote even though he had a valid voter’s ID. There were also instances recorded where a voter’s lack of awareness regarding their rights was exploited. Unnecessary documentation such as the Aadhaar were illegally declared as mandatory and all those who lacked these whimsically proclaimed “essential” documents were not allowed to vote despite their names clearly being listed on the rolls.
There were several cases of inaccessibility of the polling booths reported from states such as Odisha, Assam, Gujarat and Maharashtra that the team tracked. The EC’s catchphrase of “No Voter Left Behind” is laughable in the face of reports such as this from Bongaigaon, Assam, where a differently abled man had to crawl up to the booth to cast his vote in the absence of a ramp and wheelchair.
Even though voters frantically tagged the Election Commission on Twitter in a desperate attempt to claim their right, thousands lost out on their chance to participate in the formation of their government.
There was another interesting trend caught by the team which was that of boycotts of the election process. There were 16 instances of boycotts that the team found after the conclusion of the four phases. Uttar Pradesh was the only state that exhibited this trend consistently across the phases. In Phase 1, two entire villages in Maharashtra and two constituencies in Uttarakhand boycotted the elections in protest against undeveloped infrastructure. In Phase 2, three villages in Maharashtra, two in Uttar Pradesh and 40 families in Tamil Nadu gave up their right to vote.
Maharashtra recorded the highest number of boycotts in Phase 3 with 18 villages refusing to cast their vote in protest of the incomplete Dhamani Dam Project. A large number of boycotts was also found in Phase 4 in Sukinda, Odisha, where 300 voters refused to exercise their franchise since they had not been relocated from the Kalinganagar industrial area in Jajpur district. Other states that contributed to this trend were Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, West Bengal and Karnataka.
With three phases of the election pending, the team shall continue to monitor these trends and collate a comprehensive report at the end of it. The project’s main aim is to deny the Election Commission, as well as any other institution, the privilege of remaining willfully ignorant of these glaring ground realities. If you would like to contribute to this endeavour then you can either tag @iVote_io on Twitter with instances of voter suppression or send them in via WhatsApp at +919623540755. You can also send in occurrences to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Many have lost their chance to participate in the most crucial aspect of a democracy. If this isn’t reason enough to stop and question the authenticity of the process, then what is?