An election official applies the indelible ink on the finger of a bride at a polling station, during the 2nd phase of Lok Sabha elections in Bengaluru, yesterday (PTI)
An election official applies the indelible ink on the finger of a bride at a polling station, during the 2nd phase of Lok Sabha elections in Bengaluru, yesterday (PTI)

Flawed electoral roll inclusion a likely reason for low voter turnout in Bengaluru, Chennai

  • Few things can explain the abysmal voter turnout in Bengaluru and other urban centres like Chennai
  • There is a huge migrant population who may not get themselves registered as a voter unless there is an obvious benefit from it

BENGALURU : It couldn't have been the heat as temperatures had dropped after Wednesday’s rains in Bengaluru. Neither was it the traffic since streets wore a deserted look on Thursday. Nor could it be that people were not made aware of the elections as cacophonous advertisements promoting voting filled spaces online and offline for weeks, if not months.

Few things can explain the abysmal voter turnout in Bengaluru and other urban centres like Chennai, inhabited by those with an appetite for online outrage against governments, civic authorities and everything else that’s wrong with this country and the world today.

Bengaluru outdid its 2014 average as it recorded an average of 51.26%, 50.84%, 54.2%, and 64.09% turnouts in the four seats.

Chennai did fare better than its northern neighbour but low by its own standards. In the three seats--north, south and central--it recorded voting averages of 61.76%, 57.43% and 57.86 taking its average to just over 59% as against 2014, when the city recorded an average of just under 62%.

While the traditional narrative sways towards arguments painting the city folk as a lazy lot, willing to scramble away for a weekend vacation, political analysts present a few more possibilities.

“Urban voter roll preparation could be deeply flawed and the linkage between voting behaviour and service delivery could be really low when compared to the rural side which is very tight," Sudhir Krishnaswamy, political analyst and faculty at the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, says.

Krishnaswamy refers to over inclusion and duplication that would bring down the difference between actual voters and those listed considerably. A 2015 study by civic rights advocacy group, Janaagraha, on Delhi suggests that there could be a flaw in which electoral rolls in urban areas are done.

The report looks at errors of deletion that refers to names which are on the electoral list but should not be and errors of inclusion that looks at names which should be included on the rolls but are not there. It also states that the problematic process of voter registration should be eased to reach less affluent sections of society in urban areas.

There is a huge migrant population who may or may not get themselves registered as a voter unless there is an obvious benefit from it.

Narendra Pani, political analyst and faculty at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), said the low turnout could also mean there was no ‘wave’ and most of the places where there was higher polling could be attributed to the intensity of the contest and candidates.

He also points out that rural voters are a normally a group with shared interests and their votes are also cast in the same fashion unlike urban areas where it is a more individualistic practice.

Krishnaswamy also points towards factors like the way in which a constituency is designed or demarcated could also be the reason. In Bengaluru, very strikingly different localities with very different problems come under the same constituency, that could become a disincentive for voters who may not see a benefit of voting itself as it may not connect with hyper-local problems or demands. Low voter turnout is often read as a sign of pro-incumbency.

Though arguments continue as to why Bengaluru and Chennai slipped in terms of polling percentages, few can argue against the fact that the city's urban elite, who pride at being some of the most privileged, seldom care about something called the elections.

"We are self-righteous and are quick to point out at others faults but rarely every own up to them," said another analyst, requesting not to be named.

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