Three areas need the urgent attention of the Election Commission of] India (ECI) and the election machinery.
First, revision and updating of electoral rolls needs far more attention from the electoral registration authorities. BLOs need to be trained more professionally. Assistance of local residents, including resident welfare associations and public-spirited citizens, needs to be enlisted proactively to identify and register/delete voter names, rather than relying only on local influential persons, who may have their own axes to grind.
Second, in this era of digitisation, software tools need to be employed more imaginatively to update electoral rolls. Searching by EPIC number on the NVSP is easy, but the software lacks the capability of searching by names, in the absence of a “fuzzy” search feature. Improved data entry software made available to the electoral registration machinery would enhance efficiency in detection of duplicate records.
Above all, to ensure complete transparency in maintenance of electoral rolls and public verifiability of all decisions regarding enrolment, updates and deletions, the ECI should maintain two bulletin boards online for each assembly constituency—the first would be the official master electoral roll up to the time of the last update and the second would detail all transactions relating to voter records, these being accessible to and verifiable by members of the public.
Third, since the ECI is seriously considering allowing online voting for non-resident Indians, the same facility should be made available to resident Indians who have migrated to other areas of the country but whose names are still on the electoral rolls of the areas they have migrated from. The elderly and infirm may also need to be allowed to vote online.
Finally, a word of caution on the linking of Aadhaar numbers to voter IDs. The ECI will need to be extremely vigilant to ensure that the linking of Aadhaar numbers to voter IDs does not lead to large-scale deletion of voters (as has happened in the past in Telangana) or to attempts by governments or political parties to target and manipulate voters on the lines of the Cambridge Analytica pattern.
Wishing you all success in the firm, impartial conduct of all future elections.
(V. RAMANI is a retired IAS officer. This open letter was first published in Free Press Journal, Mumbai)