Is the voting population a true reflection of the country’s population? New data for Delhi indicates that marginalised groups are less likely to be registered or vote, but the election commission is narrowing this gap.
An Election Commission of India-commissioned survey shows that Muslims, new migrants, women and young people were less likely to be registered and vote than others. The ECI’s own analysis of its data also shows that Delhi’s voter rolls skews older and more male than the general population.
As part of the Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) Action Plan prepared by the ECI for every state, Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer commissioned a baseline survey from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in June this year, and analysed its own data as well. The report was obtained under a Right to Information application by Rama Nath Jha, director of Transparency International India’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre. “These studies give an unprecedented insight into voter behaviour,” Mr. Jha told The Hindu.
For its baseline survey, CSDS selected a sample of 25 assembly constituencies in Delhi of which 14 had a moderate to high voter turnout in 2008 (above 55%) and 11 had low turnout (below 55%). The sample was of 4,736 respondents across 200 polling booths. Forty-six per cent of the sample was female, 8% were Muslims, 19% scheduled castes (SCs) and 22% youth in the 18-25 years age group. 29% were lower middle class and 17% were poor. Recent migrants, who had moved to Delhi within the last ten years, made up 12% of the sample.
CSDS found that 86% of all respondents were registered to vote. This is substantially lower than the ECI’s own estimates which, by July, when the CSDS survey was conducted, claimed that 96% of the eligible population was registered to vote.
The registration ratio was low among young voters (68%) and new migrants (64%). Muslim registration was lower than the average for the city and lower still among poor Muslims (74%).
Among those registered to vote, women (53%), younger voters (52%), Muslims (49%), college graduates (48%) and migrants who moved within the last five years (32%) voted in lower numbers than the rest in the 2008 elections, implying that older, less educated, Hindu men voted in larger numbers. The biggest reasons for not voting were not apathy, but not being in the voter list (24%), not having a voter card or an identity card (14% and 18%).
Simultaneously, the Delhi CEO office analysed its draft electoral roll published in July and came up with its own findings. They found that the constituency with the lowest proportion of registered voters was New Delhi, which they attributed to “an element of urban apathy”. Across the city, however, the proportion of women registered to vote was lower than their already low proportion in the population, even though the ‘sex ratio’ of the electoral roll crossed 800 women per 1,000 men for the first time. This was more so the case in constituencies that were an urban/ rural mix, predominantly those in the south of the city.
The election commission’s age-wise analysis of voters found that the proportion of 18-29 year-old voters to the total voters (19.57%) was much lower than it was in the general population (24.74%). As a result, those aged 30-80 were over-represented in the voting population.
The officials of Delhi CEO said that they had made substantial efforts since the publication of the draft roll to register excluded groups, and both female and youth enrolment had gone up. “From being less than 1% of the voting population in 2012, those in the 18-19 year age group are now 3.3% of all voters, which is close to total enrolment,” Shurbir Singh, Delhi’s Special CEO, told The Hindu. Similarly, women had gone up from 788 per 1,000 men in the rolls to 805, he said. “We focussed on the areas of concern identified by SVEEP and enhanced enrolment among these sections,” Mr. Singh said.