As marathon national elections in the world’s most populous democracy head into their final phase, the Election Commission and local media are reporting dozens of cases of alleged vote fraud, and tens of thousands of names missing from voter lists in the country’s biggest city.
But officials say that over all, with more than 815 million eligible voters casting ballots over a five-week period that began April 7, the elections are remarkably trouble free.
“Certain questionable practices and people are expected to show up during elections,” said T. S. Krishna Murthy, former chief election commissioner who was in charge of the 2004 parliamentary elections. “But the Election Commission has managed to deal with them well. By and large, the elections are well-managed.”
Still there have been complaints of proxy voting and of political parties using money and muscle to rig the outcome of elections, as well as regular reports that thousands of names are missing from the voters’ lists.
The Election Commissioner of Maharashtra has publicly apologized to voters for large-scale deletions of names in Mumbai, India’s biggest city, and Pune. According to some media reports, more than 200,000 names were missing from polling lists in Mumbai.
In several constituencies, the votes are to be thrown out and new elections held.
This week, the Guwahati constituency in the eastern state of Assam said it would hold a new vote after officials were caught on surveillance cameras accompanying voters to the voting machines and casting ballots on their behalf.
Five polling stations in eastern Uttar Pradesh will also return to the polls after the Election Commission received complaints that hundreds of voters were threatened by the workers of the Samajwadi Party – which governs Uttar Pradesh – and were not allowed to cast their vote. In the Rampur constituency in eastern Uttar Pradesh, police have arrested two men who allegedly took over a polling centre and voted at the booths themselves. The Election Commission has declared the voting at those centres null and void.
Risks to security, threats of bribery and the sheer number of voters add to the difficulty of running India-wide elections.
In restive areas such as Kashmir and Chhattisgarh, extra security personnel were deployed during the five-week long elections – a time frame designed to ensure limited army and security forces can oversee rolling polls. Poll station workers were also offered benefits like life insurance.
Curbing bribery is another major challenge. In the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Jharkhand, dozens of cases of proxy voting have been reported.
“It is not easy to manage the free flow of money during elections,” said P. G. Bhat, a member of the electoral reforms commission of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “But the Election Commission could have done a better job. The EC sits tight-lipped even when it sees that voters are being bribed to cast voters for a particular party.”
Mr. Bhat said he found outdated voter records, missing thousands of names, being used when he toured polling stations in his constituency in South Bangalore.
“No one can be sure how much impact these incidents can have on the final outcome of the elections,” he said. “But those that haven’t voted have certainly not felt part of the democracy.”