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High voter turnout: what's behind the surge?

Zia Haq, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, December 04, 2013
First Published: 00:47 IST(4/12/2013) | Last Updated: 09:05 IST(4/12/2013)

In the assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, where counting is due, democracy has won hands down.

Record voter turnouts in these states are not just about higher levels of political interest but better electoral housekeeping by the Election Commission, India’s poll regulator, analysts say.

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The higher turnout in these state polls is in line with a general trend. Voter participation in state elections has been rising, while turnouts in Lok Sabha election have been stagnating or aren’t rising as fast. Psephologists are unclear about this skewed divergence.

The turnout in the 2009 Lok Sabha election was 58.8%, more or less similar to turnouts in any of the seven national elections between 1989 and 2009.

But voter participation in successive state elections has been rising. Take, for example, last year’s assembly elections in five states. The turnout jumped nearly 50% in UP. And in all five states, women voted at higher rates than men.

In Goa, the turnout, at 81.74%, jumped 11.23 percentage points from 2007. Punjab and Uttarakhand too witnessed higher turnouts.

“One of the reasons is obviously the massive clean-up of electoral rolls,” said Praveen Rai, a psephologist with the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2013/12/04_12_13-metro8b.jpg

Across states, election commissions have been vetting electoral rolls for discrepancies. Statistically, elimination of bogus voters can directly show up as an increase in turnout.

For instance, take a scenario of a particular constituency of, say, 10,000 registered voters. If 2,000 of them usually vote, then the turnout is 20%. But if 1,000 names are struck off because they are “bogus”, the voting percentage climbs to more than 22% because the number of registered voters shrinks to 9,000. 

Experts also point to a higher scale of campaigning this time. The two-stage polls in Chhattisgarh saw a record 77% turnout, leaving political pundits guessing.

Former state election commissioner Sushil Trivedi attributed the surge to the state poll regulator’s outreach programme —Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) — particularly in areas known for low turnouts.

Madhya Pradesh saw a record turnout at 72.52%. The previous highest was 69.78% in the 2008 polls. While the Congress sees the higher turnout as a result of “voter ire” against the BJP government, the BJP has viewed this as an endorsement of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Madhya Pradesh too saw an unprecedented campaign to create voter awareness through SVEEP, said Pralay Shrivastava, a spokesperson for the state’s chief electoral officer. In Rajasthan, which saw a record 75% turnout, the opposition BJP attributed the increased turnout to the frustration with “non-performance” of the Congress government. 

A higher turnout can indeed be an indicator of many things. A leap of faith in elections in the world’s largest democracy is undoubtedly one of them.

(Inputs from Ezaj Kaiser in Raipur, Ranjan Srivastava in Bhopal and Urvashi Rawal in Jaipur)

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