‘Early voting and online voting can improve turnout’

Jayanth Nath, a professional in his mid-thirties, has not bothered to vote in the last three elections, and doesn’t intend visiting the polling booth on May 5 too. “I don’t trust politicians. They enrich themselves at our expense. I don’t see why I should waste my time going to vote.”

Not just that, Mr. Nath says he feels intimidated by rough-looking sidekicks who populate the area around polling booths on voting day. “I don’t like the atmosphere and the tension during voting.”

But he perks up on whether he would vote if it was possible to do so online. “Yes, I will consider it,” he says.

Mr. Nath typifies many a Bangalore voter who simply refuses to exercise their privilege on the polling day.

Political party workers too complain that several apartments and gated communities in Bangalore bar them from entering their premises during poll campaigns. “We are not allowed inside by the security. There is no way politicians can canvass from among these communities,” said Anand A.H., a BJP worker.

The abysmal voter turnout in Bangalore in the last three decades is turning worrisome for pro-ballot activists who want maximum participation from the electorate. The system of early voting and online voting may be an “out-of-the- box” solution to reactivate the electorate.

Supporting the method of early voting, in vogue in several western countries including the United States, founder and trustee of the Association for Democratic Reforms Trilochan Sastry said there was a need for India to “pull out all stops” and use various options, resources and technology to maximise voter participation.

In early voting, registered voters cast their ballots on a single day or a series of days prior to the scheduled date of voting at a designated polling station. Early ballots are believed to have played a significant role in shoring up voter turnout as it gives people the flexibility of time to cast their votes.

During the U.S. presidential election in 2008, approximately 39.7 million or about 30 per cent of all votes were cast prior to the election date, according to the Department of Public and International Affairs, George Mason University, U.S.

Prof. Sastry, who is also a Professor in Quantitative Methods and Information Systems at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, also suggested online voting through biometric authentication. While technology is available, there is a need for will. “It is not impossible,” he added.

Unlike early voting which has been in practice for several decades, online voting is a new phenomenon, but already introduced in a few countries like Estonia, United Kingdom and Switzerland. Closer home, it was tried out during the 2011 municipal corporation elections in Gujarat when voters were allowed to vote through internet from their own laptop/PC or from e-polling booths.

Political analyst and Pro-Chancellor of Jain University Sandeep Shastri too advocates early voting and online voting to boost voter turnout in urban areas.

However, elaborate administrative preparation was needed in view of the numbers involved and the scale of the exercise.

There was also the issue of Internet penetration to be considered, he said.

The section of the electorate that does not turn up at polling booths to cast their votes includes a large chunk of middle and upper middle class, which does not depend on the “State and its instruments” as they have enough “financial strength and influence”. They live in “splendid isolation” as they think they can do without politicians, Dr. Shastri said.

Dwelling on the disconnect of urban voters with the democratic process, Dr. Sastry said: “the more you are educated and the more economically well off, you wonder what difference will it make?”

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