India's missing women voters

A comparison of census and election data shows that an imbalanced sex ratio explains only part of the gender gap in the registration of voters

February 23, 2014 11:24 am | Updated May 18, 2016 10:25 am IST

Are young Indian women voters being disenfranchised?

Are young Indian women voters being disenfranchised?

This is a blog post from

The Election Commission put out >some pretty alarming statistics on Friday, yet another chapter in India’s continuing story of gender inequities. Just 41% of the 18-19 year-olds registered to vote for the first time are women, 96 lakh of them as against 1.4 crore new male voters. Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chandigarh and Gujarat have the most skewed electoral sex ratios.

As I noted in >my article on the data, the electoral registration gap is reducing very slightly, and it’s women’s exceptionally high voter turnout that’s resulting in them making a serious impact on elections. So why then is there this gap in registration?

Since India has a sex ratio skewed in favour of men, it seems logical that this is what explains the gap. But on testing, I found that it doesn’t explain the entire gap.

I compared the sex ratio of registered voters aged 18-19 as put out by the Election Commission with the sex ratio of the entire population aged 18-19 as put out by the Census. For this, I looked at all those who were aged 15-16 at the time of the 2011 Census, since they would now be 18-19.

Click >here to view enlarged image.

As you can see, the sex ratio of the overall population in that age group explains some of the gender imbalance in registered voters. The states with the worst overall sex ratios are also the ones with the most imbalanced electorates. However, this is clearly an incomplete answer. There is a further gap after one accounts for the overall sex ratio, meaning that the Election Commission is quite clearly not able to register new male and female voters at an even pace.

A state like Karnataka, with a reasonably decent sex ratio in the 15-16 (now 18-19) age group of over 900 girls per 1000 boys does not have a good excuse for registering just 673 girls for every 1000 boys. Similarly, Maharashtra with 873 girls for every 1000 boys is registering just 549 girls for every 1000 boys. Nagaland is the only state that appears to have corrected too far in the other direction: despite an overall sex ratio slightly skewed in favour of boys, the new voters’ sex ratio is slightly skewed in favour of girls.

Overall, just 46% of those who should be aged 18-19 today have been enrolled to vote by the Election Commission so far – just 2.3 crore enrolled so far out of a total potential population of over 5 crore. As the final push to enrol all those left out begins, it seems clear that an extra effort is going to be needed to make sure young women are not disenfranchised.

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