Committed to 'Purity of Electoral Rolls': Chief Election Commissioner Amid Concerns Over Voter Lists

Rajiv Kumar said there have been over 20 lakh deletions in the electoral rolls and a modification of over 22 lakh in the five states that are going to polls in November.

New Delhi: Last month the Telangana state election commission ordered an inquiry after three lakh voters were found to be registered at one house address in the Sherlingampally Assembly constituency. While the error was flagged by software, it brings to question the “purity” of electoral rolls once again.

Chief election commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar Monday, October 9, while announcing elections to five state assemblies said there have been over 20 lakh deletions in the rolls and a modification of over 22 lakh in these five states. He also said, “Maintaining the purity of electoral rolls is our constitutional mandate and we are doing this with the 10 lakh plus BLOs (booth level officer) who do a house-to-house survey using the app (called Garud) and by maintaining the BLO register.”

So, what caused the Sherlingampally voter roll snafu? Hyderabad-based independent researcher Srinivas Kodali says if the BLO was indeed going house to house verifying voters, this wouldn’t have happened. “Now, the Election Commission of India has shifted to the centralised ERO-Net portal for verifying the rolls. If in the past it was the state CEO that did the deduplication, now the ultimate authority rests with this portal and the Electoral Register Officer is the final authority. The ERO-Net is a black box and a centralised non-transparent system. And, we don’t know who is adding or deleting names.”

ERO Net is a web-based system for use by electoral officials in 14 languages and automates the process of electoral roll management like elector registration and field verification. Prior to the introduction of this centralised network, each state was using state-specific software. The advantage is it helps a voter migrate from one constituency to another while retaining the same electoral ID number.

Kodali goes on to narrate an incident of a college professor who went to get his son’s name added to the roll. The computer was manned, he says, not by the BLO but by the person who had installed the computer in the BLO’s office. “He was the one taking instructions from the BLO and entering the data. The BLO said he wasn’t computer savvy.” The CEC, however, says this work is never outsourced. 

Kodali’s plea against the linking of Aadhar ID with voter cards has been pending in the Supreme Court since 2018. One instance of a linkage done in 2015 led to the deletion of nearly 55 lakh voters from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, who were left out of the electoral process in 2019. Activists have said Aadhar-seeded data helps profile a voter based on caste, religion, and socio-economic status. 

The purity of electoral rolls has been brought into question also by a recent paper, Democratic Backsliding in the World’s Largest Democracy by ex-Ashoka University professor, Sabyasachi Das. The paper explored irregular patterns in the 2019 elections and questioned if this is due to electoral manipulation by the incumbent party’s “ability to precisely predict and affect win margins”.

The paper had said amongst other issues that “manipulation appears to take the form of targeted electoral discrimination against India’s largest minority group – Muslims, partly facilitated by weak monitoring by election observers”.