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Voter turnout will be a real challenge in 2014: CEC

Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times  Washington, December 15, 2013
First Published: 10:56 IST(15/12/2013) | Last Updated: 14:26 IST(15/12/2013)

Don’t let the blockbuster voter turnouts for the recently concluded assembly elections fool you. Numbers for the coming general elections will not be anywhere close.

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And that worries the chief election commissioner VS Sampath enough to list it as his top challenge, more than even the prospect of poll violence.

“Voter turnout will be a real challenge,” Sampath told Hindustan Times on Friday at a Washington DC think tank event after his first public remarks on the assembly elections.

“We as the election commission will have to take up a major task as we believe larger voter turnout makes for more meaningful democracy,” he added.

The next Lok Sabha must be in by June 1, and the commission will be working backwards from that date to hold the polls staggered over a number of phases.

Sampath, who joined the commission in 2009 and became the CEC in 2012, said turnout tends to be lower in national elections compared to assembly polls because of the sheer size of the parliamentary constituencies – each with around 1.5 million voters.

Political mobilisation is more robust in smaller contests.

Delhi turnout was 66.10% compared to 57.58% in the last election, Chhattisgarh 77% over 70.34%; MP 72.66% to 69%; Rajasthan 75.65% to 66.49%; and Mizoram 83.41% to 80.42%.

This was not solely because of the enthusiasm whipped up about Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party, which was contesting only Delhi, or that these were assembly elections.

The election commission contributed to it significantly through special effort starting three years ago, when a study showed enrollment among the young was abysmally low at 20%.

That number is now up 80% in Delhi because of EC’s efforts, and to 60% in other states. Apart from the usual enrollment and revision of the polls, Sampath said, “we organised one more special summary revision (before the assembly polls) ... carried out door to door.”

And it worked. “Our experience is that a voter who enrolls in an election year invariably votes,” he said. And that was the key. The coming Lok Sabha elections may need more such tricks.

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