My experience as a first-time voter

The General Elections to the Lok Sabha are the biggest exercise of democratic politics in the history of the world. Out of the several first-time voters voting in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, I was also one. This article describes my first actual encounter with elections as a voter.

Getting registered as a voter

Since the ECI measures the age of the electors on the basis of their age on the first of January of the current year, I became eligible to register as a voter only on the first of January 2019 (despite being born in April 2000). It was on a pleasant January afternoon when I visited the National Voter Service Portal. Completing Form 6 was easy and so was procuring the necessary documents. It was what happened afterward that led to a bit of tension.

For almost two months, my application did not move forward, even by an inch. Each and every time I visited the site to check the status of my application, I was shown the same status as on the first day i.e. 'Submitted'. I called up the helpline number, I lodged my grievance on their portal, and I even called up the local BLO, but none of them seemed to have any idea. Finally, the application began to move forward once the press release of the election was done by the ECI. It was finally on the fourth of April that I was included as a voter. It goes without saying that the delivery of the actual EPIC i.e. the Voter ID would take a few more weeks. But I could vote using any of the other photo identity documents.

The journey to the booth and the experience

Although I was filled with excitement and anticipation for the previous few weeks or so, on the actual day of voting, my anxiety knew no end. From the very beginning of the day, I was feeling unusually lazy. Going to a polling station in the April heat (my constituency, Guwahati, went to polls on the 23rd, during the third phase) seemed like a lot for me. The temperature itself in Guwahati wasn't unbearable, but the humidity is something else entirely. Ultimately, a huge lot of encouragement from my brother meant that I found myself in the polling station, about one and a half kilometers away, waiting for my turn to vote. I had used a simple logic that going to vote during the noon would be the best idea because most people would not even dare to venture out of their homes during noontime in April. My assumption turned out to be correct as it was a shorter line compared to what my brother and mother had to encounter. Even then, the heat, which was the main reason for my laziness, continued to make me uncomfortable. Well, it is still much better than having to wait for two hours in the line.

To tell you the truth, the experience at the polling station did disappoint me a lot. The polling station was divided into three parts. Out of these, the part at the left-hand side was assigned a huge lot of voters with the queue extending to the footpath outside. The one on the center had practically only a couple of voters. My part, on the extreme right, was somewhere in the middle, as far as the number of voters is concerned. The management, including assigning the voters to various parts of the booth could have been done much better. While our booth had a massive number of voters, the polling station just across the road, only had a few.

Another aspect which is vastly more serious also caught my eye. I had earlier talked about not receiving my EPIC in time. Therefore I had carried my bank passbook as a proof of identity. But on arriving there, I noticed that the proof of identity was hardly examined at all. They simply checked the serial number on the photo voter slip (which is not a proof of identity due to the complete absence of security features) and allowed me to access the EVM. On completing my voting, I had even joked with a friend that even if he had gone to the booth with my photo voter slip and used a bit of disguise, even he would have been able to vote in my stead.

What they could have done better

Going to the booth and casting my vote did teach me a couple of valuable lessons which are almost completely absent from our political science books. Firstly a device like the VVPAT is extremely important as far as assuring the voter regarding the infallibility of the EVM is concerned. My mother had complained during the earlier election that even after casting her vote, she was unsure if she had indeed fulfilled her democratic responsibility properly or not. The presence of the VVPAT this time was a great assurance.

Secondly, there is a great scope for making the elections more convenient for a large section of the population. E-voting can be introduced after providing the voters with some sort of secret pin (similar to the secret pin used in debit card payments). Obviously, this need not be made a compulsory measure, but rather an optional one. Needless to say, adequate attention needs to be given to the technology required for such a procedure and also measures which can be taken to prevent malpractices which might arise from the adoption of such a method.

Thirdly, there is a large scope to provide better service delivery in terms of providing Voter IDs to the electors. My voter registration took three months to be finished and even now I have not received my EPIC. Quickening up the process would help in relieving the headaches of several voters across the country.

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