3 Questions on the Election Commission’s Own Transparency Issues

Will the Election Commission address questions about voter deletions?

3 min read

Cameraperson: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Editor: Purnendu Pritam

Lok Sabha elections 2019.

As parties, candidates, news studios, your family WhatsApp group and pundits across the country’s tea stalls gear up for the largest carnival on earth, it is important to keep one eye also on those who are organising it all – The Election Commission of India.

The Election Commission finally announced the poll dates on 10 March – only after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was done with his blitzkrieg of 157 inaugurations across the country.

If this has raised questions, then there are 3 other burning questions that the Election Commission of India should address before the country embarks on a 43-day long poll ‘tyohaar’ (festival) as the EC calls it.

Voter Data Profiling in Andhra Pradesh

With just a month to go for the elections, a massive case in Andhra Pradesh has illustrated how the voter data – database that included the voter's caste as well as party preference – can be misused by attempting to get voters deleted from the electoral rolls.

Here’s what happened.

An official app of Andhra’s ruling Telugu Desam Party called ‘Seva Mitra’ contains detailed profiles of nearly all of the state’s 3.5 crore eligible voters in the state. It includes information about their caste, the government welfare schemes availed, family details as well as which party the individual would vote for.

Now, the TDP has accused KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti and Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR-Congress Party of having stolen that voter database by using Telangana police next door to raid the Hyderabad-based software company that built the app.

However, while the Commission has acknowledged that large-scale voter deletions have been attempted, it has made no official statement on the app or the brazen political tug-of-war among political parties over the database of voters, or how the attempts at deletion are perhaps linked to this data based on who the voter is likely to vote for.


Social Media Monitoring

The Election Commission has announced that it will ‘closely monitor’ social media platforms for objectionable content and advertisements.

Candidates will have to furnish details of money spent on political advertisements on social media platforms at the time of filing nominations.

Any advertisement by candidates will have to be pre-certified by a Media Certification and Monitoring Committee.

Fair enough, BUT the larger question is – can the ECI really monitor the deluge of propaganda that extends across platforms?

What about WhatsApp? Candidates can very well be orchestrating entire parallel campaigns on WhatsApp. 

What if a non-candidate individual puts up paid ads from one of the thousands of FB pages supporting some party or another. How will the ECI determine whether a political advertisement paid for by a page is in some way linked to a candidate because this is not within its mandate?

Point is, that Model Code of Conduct rules have historically been routinely flouted by distributing liquor, cash and gifts to get votes. Social media then, is just another avenue for parties to brazen it out.

Moreover, a crucial report on the 48-hour silence period before polling was submitted to the ECI on 10 January.

It contains important observations on the difficulties in regulating social media platforms during multiphase elections and especially during the mandated “silence periods”. However, curiously enough, this important report has NOT been made public. WHY?

EC’s Voter Deletion Software

The Election Commission’s slogan for the upcoming polls is “No voter to be left behind”.

However, as we speak, the Hyderabad High Court is hearing a petition regarding an opaque software that the Election Commission had used to delete an alarming 27 lakh voters in Telangana and 19 lakh voters in Andhra Pradesh in October 2018. However, details of the algorithm, source-code or the maker of this software are not known.

These deletions had occurred since 2015. This is significant because it was the year the Election Commission of India undertook the controversial National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) to seed Aadhaar numbers with voter IDs.

According to the EC, it had seeded over 32 crore Aadhaar numbers in just 3 months before the Supreme Court stepped in and ordered the EC to stop the linking programme in August 2015.

Interestingly, 3 years after this Supreme Court order, in October 2018, the EC has supported a petition in Madras High Court to resume linking of Aadhaar-Voter ID.  The question is – why this eagerness to link voter IDs with Aadhaar, especially after the Telangana and Andhra fiasco which denied lakhs their right to vote? 

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