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02.01.2019
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The Election Commission of India (ECI) is getting ready to publish final electoral rolls on January 21, as it prepares for the Lok Sabha polls to be held this summer, and it wants voters to ensure that their names are in the voting lists of their respective constituencies.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is getting ready to publish final electoral rolls on January 21, as it prepares for the Lok Sabha polls to be held this summer, and it wants voters to ensure that their names are in the voting lists of their respective constituencies.

People familiar with the development said the commission has also asked all state election offices to verify the existence of voters and ensure electoral rolls are without errors such as duplicate names or missing voters.

“Voters are also being encouraged to verify their details. Being registered in two places is an electoral offence, but the commission has decided to give voters a chance to update their address and make necessary changes,” said one Election Commission official on condition of anonymity.

Through public interest messages on television, radio, advertisements in newspapers and through social media, EC has been informing voters of the various ways in which they can enroll or update their details.

Duplicate entries and names missing from the list became a flashpoint between the poll body and some political parties (across states) in the last round of assembly elections.

Previously, the big issue was the efficacy of the electronic voting machines (EVM), after complaints of EVMs malfunctioning were reported during the bypolls in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Errors in the rolls set off a political slugfest after Opposition parties accused election officials of colluding with the ruling party to doctor the list. In Telangana, for instance, Congress leader Shashidhar Reddy accused the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) of “getting names deleted”.

EC denied that its officials were responsible for incorrect deletion of names and said some names were excluded after voters failed to notify changes in their address.

However, following complaints from voters about their names going missing from the rolls during the recent assembly elections in Telangana and the complaint from the Congress party about the existence of “bogus voters” in Madhya Pradesh, the commission is reaching out to voters through campaigns on the ground and through social media to ensure their names are on the list.

“In Telangana, many voters had not updated their addresses. In some cases when the officials went to verify their existence on the listed address, they found them missing so their names were struck off. The claims made by the Congress in Madhya Pradesh proved to be untrue.

The commission, using a de-duplication software, carried out a purification exercise in 2016 to clean up the electoral list in Madhya Pradesh. We found 68 lakh duplicate entries, which were subsequently verified,” the official said.The Congress presented these as bogus voters.

"EC is a reputed body and it has been holding elections, impartially and without any fear or favour for several decades. Creating doubt about the election processes in India does not serve any purpose. The Congress blames EVMs and electoral rolls after it loses elections, but remains quiet when it wins," said Anil Baluni, Rajya Sabha MP and Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson.

Following the complaint from Reddy, parties such as the YSR Congress have written to the poll panel to carry out a clean-up drive.

“After the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh [in 2014], there are many voters who are registered in their villages [that were part of undivided Andhra Pradesh] as well as in Hyderabad [now part of Telangana] . Since the assembly polls are upcoming in the state [of Andhra], there is a worry that some of these people who are registered in two places could vote here as well. We have informed the EC that there are duplicate entries in the list, and we came to know that some voters’ names were deliberately removed from the list by the officials at the behest of the ruling party. These concerns need to be addressed,” said V Vijayasai Reddy of the YSR Congress.

EC officials, however, said there is nothing to worry about because its de-duplication software tracks names with similar demographics, such as the name itself, the parentage, address, or age, and places them together. “This is being followed up with a physical verification,” said a second EC official.

“We are giving out details of which forms to fill for various purposes such as for those who have relocated to a different constituency, for updating or correct details etc; these forms are on the EC website and can be procured at the local election office,” added this person, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

There has been talk in some quarters of EC linking rolls to Aadhaar numbers to ensure error-free electoral lists, but Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reforms, an election watchdog, doesn’t think that is a good idea and said accurate rolls are a utopian notion: “The EC has to be on its toes trying to keep it as correct as possible. It has to be a continuous exercise. Linking to Aadhar is not the answer, since Aadhar [enrolment] itself is unreliable and risky.”

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