All eyes were set on Karnataka as it went to polls on the twelfth of May. Setting the ground for the 2019 Lokasabha elections, the 2018 General Assembly Elections proved to be extremely crucial to all the major parties. Leaving no stone unturned, the Congress and the BJP engaged in some rigorous campaigning across the state. But more importantly there was immense pressure on the ruling party to ensure the smooth conduction of elections. Shouldering the staggering responsibility, the Congress government arduously worked towards making the polls `the most voter-friendly’.
Bringing in transparency with VVPAT
Ushering in a positive change, the Karnataka Election Commission introduced `VVPAT equipped EVMs’ for the 2018 Assembly elections. Being introduced in the aftermath of the alleged tampering of EVMs in the recent Gujarat Assembly elections and 2017’s civic and assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, the move has been lauded by all. Following the examples set by states like Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland, Karnataka has become the seventh state in the country to introduce the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines.
Introduced in order to bring in transparency in the voting process, VVPAT acts as an independent verification system for the EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines).Introduced by the Election Commission at the Centre in 2014, VVPATs leave behind a paper trail for the votes recorded on EVMs. Safeguarding the tally of votes, it helps to maintain the integrity of the electoral process. A barrier against fraudulent poll practises, VVPAT allows for the verification of votes registered by the voter himself. It acts as a preventive measure against the tampering of the EVMs. The need for such a technology arose when BJP won with a sweeping majority in Gujarat’s 2014 Assembly elections, inspite of anti-saffron feelings in the state. A similar concern was raised when AAP lost to BJP in the 2014 General Assembly elections in Punjab.
With 73,850 VVPAT machines stationed at 56,694 polling booths, the consternations of the Congress regarding the polls has been put to a rest. With the latest Mark 3 version of EVMs being employed, the slightest possibility of hampering has been axed. The impregnable software and hardware components of the EVM, manufactured and controlled by Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) and the Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) has proved to be a befitting answer to the Congress’s request to then president Pranab Mukherjee to revert to the ballot paper system. With nearly 3,56,552 personnel deployed to ensure the correct handling of the M3 EVMs, the smooth conduction of polls is assured.
An earnest effort to improve the voter turnout
The dismal voter turnout in urban centres during the previous two elections had been a matter of grave concern. Taking upon itself the responsibility to improve the situation, the Siddaramaiah government undertook several initiatives. In collaboration with Facebook, the Karnataka Election Commission (KEC) disseminated information through videos and posts on the social media platform. Popularising the #AllToPoll Campaign on Twitter and Instagram, it urged the tech-savvy youth to participate in the democratic process. As a highly innovative move, the KEC announced the distribution of free scuba-diving passes to all young voters with their birth date falling on January 1, 2000. Roping in Kannada lyricist and music director Yogaraj Bhat to pen down an election theme song highlighting the significance of voting, the KEC colluded with mobile service providers and IPL authorities to popularise it. They also tried to raise poll awareness through flashmobs, street plays and radio jingles in urban and rural areas. With the number of urban voters increasing from a mere 7 lakh in 2013 to a significant 15.44 lakh in 2018, the government cleverly directed the voter turnout programmes towards the youth vote bank.
In order to facilitate a hassle-free conduction of polls, special voting booths were constructed across the state. 450 `pink booths’ named Sakhi were set up to specially cater to women voters in the state. Adorned with pink balloons and draperies, these all-women managed booths highlighted the indispensable need for women empowerment. Aiming to woo the tribal voters, ethnic polling booths mirroring the culture and traditions of the tribal masses were set up within two kilometres of the tribal settlements in eight districts. As an incentive to the people who voted, model polling stations reflecting a festive fervour were set up near the polling booths. All booths were efficiently equipped with wheel chairs and ramps, to cater to differently-abled voters. Witnessing a massive voter turnout at these special booths, the first of its kind move was lauded.
SVEEP, Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation programme, a flagship initiative to encourage electoral participation, successfully drew massive numbers to the voting booths. School children were used as vehicles to ensure their parents’ participation in the electoral process. Government officials distributing voter slips earnestly tried to ensure voter participation. Joining hands with Nehru Yuva Kendra and Kannada and Culture Department, the KEC initiated the voters’ motivation programme in areas recording a low voter turnout in the previous elections. Poets were asked to stress upon the significance of voting during the multi-language poets meet in Dakshina Kannada district. SVEEP committees were formed in every taluk to increase voters’ registration. Rallies were undertaken to uphold the importance of ethical and compulsory voting.
With massive voter turn outs recorded on the polling day, it seems like the efforts paid off. With the introduction of such innovative programmes, this election has been extremely special to the people of Karnataka.
Picture Credits: PTI