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How India votes

india Updated: Mar 19, 2009 02:17 IST

Starting April 16, the country will start voting for a new Lok Sabha in what will be the world’s largest election. More than 71 crore people will have the opportunity to pick their leader; votes will be cast for 543 seats in five phases ending May 13; about 61 lakh government employees, including about 21 lakh security personnel, will be deployed to ensure peaceful polling at some 8.3 lakh polling stations spread across the country. It’s a time when the country leaves everything behind to talk just politics. Chetan Chauhan and Arnab Hazra offer a dummy’s guide to the elections.

Who, and how many, can vote?

Any Indian citizen, aged 18 and above as on January 1, 2009, is eligible to vote. There are 71.4 crore such people who have registered with the Election Commission to vote in this election. In the last election, 58 per cent of 67.5 crore eligible voters turned out to cast their ballot. This time, as the electorate simmers in the wake of 26/11, that number is expected to rise.

How does one cast a vote?

The voter should know his or her electoral roll number and carry a voter ID card or any other Election Commission-
authorised identity card to the polling booth. Across the country, there will be 8.12 lakh polling stations — one for every 300 voters — that will have electronic voting machines. Votes are cast against the candidates’ names and symbols.

Who can contest?

Any citizen aged 25 or more, whose name is on the electoral rolls, can contest. Non-Resident Indians can contest by filing nomination papers with the Indian embassy in their country of residence. A candidate can contest from a maximum of two constituencies. Those with dual citizenship, convicted of a crime or failing to submit accounts of election expenses in the past cannot contest.

How do candidates get a symbol?

Symbols for national and regional political parties are reserved. Other candidates get symbols on a first-come-first-served basis from a list of symbols finalised by the Election Commission. Candidates of unrecognised parties and Independents have to post three options for symbols while filing their nomination papers.

Who conducts the elections, and how?

For each constituency, the Election Commission names a government employee as a returning officer, who in turn notifies dates for filing and withdrawing of nominations, polling and counting of votes. This officer is also responsible for enforcing the model code of conduct in the constituency, ensuring that ruling parties do not use their power to influence voters.

Who manages the polling booth and counts the votes?

Five officials are designated to manage each booth. Each candidate also nominates a polling agent for each booth, to identify valid voters and help officials conduct the election. A team of officials headed by a returning officer then counts the votes. Each candidate can also nominate a counting agent for the job.

Dos and Don’ts for candidates

At the time of filing nominations, only five people and three vehicles can accompany each candidate. Pasting posters and writing slogans on public or private property are prohibited. No loudspeakers are allowed after 10 pm. Candidates must submit declarations detailing their assets, criminal record and educational qualifications.

How long does it take?

Once the votes are polled, the electronic voting machines are sealed in a secured warehouse. They are brought to the counting centres on the day of counting, which generally starts after all phases of polling end. For a Parliamentary seat, three to five hours are needed to count the votes. The returning officer announces the winning candidate.

How much does it cost?

The Election Commission plans to spend Rs 1,300 crore on this election. State governments will spend another Rs 700 crore each. But the big spending will be by parties and candidates. The Election Commission allows each candidate to spend up to
Rs 25 lakh. But in reality, candidates from major political parties spend about Rs 2 crore or more each.

What happens after that? Who gets to form the government and how?

After elections, the list of winning candidates is notified and sent to the President. The party or alliance that claims a majority in the Lok Sabha is invited by the President to form the government.