With innovative measures, Karnataka CEO hopeful voter turnout will rise to 72 per cent

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Bengaluru, March 16 (IANS) With innovative and proactive measures in place, Karnataka’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Manoj Kumar Meena is hopeful that the state’s voter turnout in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls will rise to 72 per cent or beyond — at least 4 per cent higher than the 2019 elections.

About 3.5 lakh officials will be deployed at various levels across 58,834 polling stations in the state for the smooth conduct of elections. Besides, over 30,000 CCTV cameras will be installed across the state, Meena told IANS in an exclusive interview.

He said that around 5.41 crore voters have enrolled so far, of them, 11.2 lakh are first-time voters.

Edited excerpts of the interview:

IANS: What is the status of preparedness for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections?

Meena: The most important thing for an election is the voter list. We have published our electoral roll on January 22. Till then, we had 5.37 crore voters in Karnataka. The updation is going on, which means you can still get your name added to the list, till the last date of nomination. Anyone above 17 years of age, can file an advance application and those who are turning 18 before March 31 will get their names included in the final electoral roll.

Secondly, the preparation of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). We already completed the first-level checking in August-September last year. EVMs’ functioning and other capabilities were tested in front of political parties. We have a sufficient number of Ballot Units (BUs) and Control Units (CUs).

The third requirement for conducting polls smoothly is the training of people who would be deployed on election duties starting from the District Election Officer, Returning Officer, to SPs and Police Commissioners. They were called to New Delhi by the Election Commission of India (ECI) for training.

These official are now training their subordinates such as additional returning officers, flying squad teams, static squad teams, video surveillance teams, expenditure monitoring teams and others.

The biggest chunk is the officials who actually conduct the polling on booths. They are called Polling Officials. One Presiding Officer and three Polling Officials are deployed to each booth. We require almost 3.5 lakh people. The database is ready and they will be trained 10 days before the polling.

There will be Micro Observers also, they will be posted in one-third of polling stations. Basically, they are Central government employees and directly report to the Observers, not to us.

At almost 50 per cent of the polling stations, we are installing 30,000 CCTVs through which voting can be directly monitored by the District Election Officer and the ECI.

We are ready in all aspects and will start our activities once the election dates are announced.

IANS: How many constituencies in the state are reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) candidates?

Meena: We have 28 parliamentary constituencies — 21 unreserved, five are reserved for SC candidates and two are for ST candidates. Bellary and Raichur seats are reserved for ST candidates while Gulbarga, Bijapur, Chitradurga, Kolar and Chamarajanagar seats are for SC contestants.

IANS: Can you share the voter demographics in the state?

Meena: At the time of publication of the final electoral roll on January 22, we had 5.37 crore voters and as of March 15, it has increased to 5.41 crore. Of them, 2.71 crore are male voters while 2.70 crore are women. Between males and females, there is hardly a difference of 60,000 voters.

We have 11.2 lakh young voters at the age of 18 years, who are also first-time voters. Voters from uniform services are 46,501. There are six lakh specially-abled (Divyang) voters in the state.

The number of registered transgender voters is 4,920. These are the numbers who identified themselves as transgenders. The total number of transgenders we had enrolled was around 47,000.

We have 5.7 lakh voters who are 85 or above years of age and are eligible to vote from home.

Special arrangements are being made for the staff, polling officials and police so that they can exercise their franchise.

IANS: What efforts are you taking to increase the voter turnout?

Meena: To increase voter turnout, programmes such as the Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) are being organised to create awareness.

Historically, lower turnouts were registered in urban areas and the Kalyan Karnataka region. We have identified around 5,000 polling stations where turnouts remained low in previous elections. We are trying to find the reason and sort it out.

Facilities such as cleanliness, water arrangements, shades, and parking space within 100 metres will be provided on such booths.

We ‘Chunavana’ app, on which voters can find out whether there is a parking space near the polling booth. Also, voters can check the number of people standing in the queue at the booth.

In urban areas, it is difficult to locate a polling station. So, we are putting QR codes on the voters’ slips which can be scanned to navigate the polling station. This initiative for the first time in the country was introduced by the Karnataka State Election Commission in MLC elections and we are going to repeat it in the Lok Sabha polls.

In the Kalyan Karnataka region, we taking special measures for heat because when the election happens it will be peak summer. The temperature already touching 40 degrees. A first aid kit in case of sunstroke will be provided. Also, ambulances will be deployed at polling stations.

IANS: Any special plan for Bengaluru, which records low voter turnout?

Meena: For Bengaluru, we have identified those polling stations where low voter turnout was registered during the Assembly polls. Almost 3,000 such polling stations have been identified in Bengaluru.

We are hopeful that the percentage can be improved.

We have booth-level election management plans on how to increase voter turnout, and we are also speaking to people. Each polling station has a unique issue and we are addressing them.

IANS: What are your strategies for sensitive polling booths?

Meena: We have mapped booths and areas which are critical and vulnerable and preventive measures are being taken. Measures such as externment, and clamping of the Goonda Act have been already initiated by police.

Almost 14 state and Central agencies such as Income Tax, Narcotics Bureau, ED, Commercial Tax, Excise, Director of Revenue Intelligence, and Civil Aviation are carrying out surveillance and vigilance on those who can influence voters and provide money to politicians. We are hopeful of curbing the inducement of voters.

We have put all the inter-state borders on alert. There are six states bordering Karnataka. We have Goa on the west, Maharashtra on the north, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh on the east and Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the south. There are 172 permanent check posts at all border areas, which include 42 Excise Department check posts. Once the elections are announced, they will become joint check posts.

The 58,834 polling stations in the state are located in 42,074 locations. There could be more than one polling station at one location. Out of this, 37,239 are rural booths and 21,595 are urban booths. Instructions have been given that no polling station should be located on the first floor.

IANS: Is there any possibility of a law and order situation during the polling?

Meena: We are not expecting any law and order situation. Karnataka historically is a peaceful state. We are not expecting any issues other than inducements. However, we are not complacent and are ready for everything.

IANS: What measures are being taken to ensure transparency with regard to EVMs?

Meena: All activities relating to EVMs are totally transparent. We have done everything in front of representatives of all political parties from start to end. They have a list of EVMs in the districts. We will do the randomisation to determine the allotment of EVMs. This will be done in front of representatives of political parties.

The copies detailing which EVM is going to which constituency will be provided to them.

IANS: Your message to voters of Karnataka…

Meena: Most importantly, there are still a few days left for eligible voters to get themselves enrolled. We have a ‘Voter Helpline’ app, where one can check whether his or her name is listed on the electoral roll or not.

It’s very easy. You have your Voter ID card and when you enter the voter identity number on the app, it will show whether your name is there or not.

Having a voter ID in hand is not a guarantee that you can vote. But if your name is there on the roll, you can use any government ID with a photo to exercise your franchise.

Please do participate in large numbers and earn a good name for your city and state. We are ensuring that your voting experience remains pleasant. It is your duty to elect your government in a peaceful manner.

–IANS

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