India has witnessed a more than four-fold increase in the number of electors since 1962 to over 94.5 crore this year, but almost one-third of them stayed away from exercising their franchise in the last Lok Sabha polls. This has prompted the Election Commission of India (ECI) to walk the extra mile to bring them to the polling booths. Amid talks of taking the voter turnout to 75%, the ECI has recognised that people from urban areas, young voters, and migrants formed a big part of the 30 crore missing voters in the last Lok Sabha election. In order to woo these demographics, the ECI has taken a multi-pronged approach ranging from conducting awareness campaigns to introducing remote voting systems.
In November 2022, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar participated in an awareness rally in Pune and requested voters in urban areas as well as young electors to increase their participation in the election process. During the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections in December, the ECI rued the fact that the “voter turnout figure was dampened by urban apathy.” Quoting figures, the ECI stated that “major cities in Gujarat have recorded not only a decline in voting percentage as compared to the 2017 elections but have also voted much less than the State average in 2022.”
To address the issue of migrants missing from the election process, the ECI announced in December that it has developed a prototype for a Multi-Constituency Remote Electronic Voting Machine which would enable remote voting by migrant voters. Remote Electronic Voting Machines can handle multiple constituencies from a single remote polling booth.
Chart 1 shows the number of electors and the voter turnout in the past 15 Lok Sabha elections. From 21.63 crore electors in 1962, the count increased to 91.05 crore in 2019. The total number of voters on January 1 this year was 94,50,25,694 (94.5 crore). The voter turnout has increased significantly in recent years and crossed the 65% mark in the last two general elections. But 35% still remain absent from the process.
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As the ECI said, urban apathy is a major factor. Table 2 lists the three parliamentary constituencies from select States which recorded the lowest voter turnout in the 2019 general elections. Nearly all the constituencies listed are in the capital districts of the respective States or part of other urban centres. For instance, in Karnataka, the constituencies — Bangalore south, Bangalore central and Bangalore north — recorded the three lowest voter turnouts in the State in the last general election. All three seats are in the capital city. This pattern can be observed in the other States listed as well.
Chart 3 shows the number of electors registered for the most recent parliamentary/presidential elections in select countries. Only the top 10 countries are depicted. The ECI has a big task on hand given that India’s number of registered voters is almost four times that of the U.S., the second country on the list. India’s voter base exceeds the combined numbers of the U.S., Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Pakistan and Japan.
India, with a voter turnout of 67.1% in the last Lok Sabha elections, ranked 74th among the 162 countries whose data were compared (Chart 4). Only the vote shares in the most recent elections conducted in these countries were considered. India’s vote share lagged behind the turnouts recorded in Bangladesh (80%), Brazil (79.2%) and Sri Lanka (75%), but surpassed the turnouts in Russia (51%), Pakistan (50%) and Nepal (61%).
Source: Election Commission of India, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
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