Business Standard

Challenges for ECI

Young voters must be encouraged to vote


As the world’s largest democracy gears up to vote, starting later this month, the Election Commission of India (ECI) must effectivel­y manage its numerous responsibi­lities to uphold electoral integrity for ensuring the conduct of free and fair elections. None of the challenges faced by the ECI is novel but they have taken newer forms in recent years. While some amount of bickering is expected in competitiv­e elections, the narrative can quickly take a dangerous turn in response to allegation­s and counter-allegation­s of politicall­y motivated fake news. The acrimony in the country can be attributed to the ready mix of a teeming internet population, poor digital literacy, and caste, community, and religious sentiments that threaten to boil over small provocatio­ns.

With the emergence of social media bots and deep fakes, the ECI must stay one step ahead of the problem. The new face of misinforma­tion and the availabili­ty of digital content in dozens of Indian languages make it harder to monitor and stop bad actors before the damage is done. To combat the misinforma­tion menace, the ECI has done well to launch the “Myth and Reality” project, which entrusts various state authoritie­s with the powers to request the removal of false news under different Sections of the Informatio­n Technology (IT) Act. Recently, Google partnered the ECI to offer critical pollrelate­d informatio­n on Google search and Youtube. This comes along with Google’s verificati­on of political advertiser­s through Eci-provided certificat­es and in-ad disclaimer­s to show who sponsored the advertisem­ent.

Election officials are also trying their best to address the problem of voter apathy by encouragin­g voting in areas that drag down the overall poll percentage. In this regard, the ECI has identified nine states and two Union Territorie­s that exhibited a voter turnout rate (VTR) lower than the national average of 67.4 per cent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. A total of 266 parliament­ary constituen­cies or PCS (215 rural and 51 urban) with a low VTR have been identified for the preparatio­n of a booth-wise action plan so that people are self-motivated to vote. While it is commonly believed that voter apathy plagues major urban and metropolit­an areas (17 of the top 50 PCS with the least turnout in the 2019 elections), it is also increasing in rural areas. Most of the PCS with low turnouts are in rural areas. Interestin­gly, most states in east, northeast, and south India had above-average VTRS. Additional­ly, the ECI must also look into better ways of engaging with young and first-time voters. To this end, the ECI is leveraging social media to nudge young voters to come to the polling station to vote through the “Turning 18” campaign.

Unfortunat­ely, India’s youngest voters appear hesitant to exercise their electoral rights. Less than 40 per cent of all 18- or 19-year-olds who are eligible to vote have registered for the 2024 elections. Around 18 million new voters in this age bracket have been recorded on the electoral rolls, while the population size of this age group stands at approximat­ely 49 million. Such problems require targeted interventi­ons and an expanded voter outreach, the results of which will be visible only in the first week of June, when the mammoth exercise ends.

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