Jumbo ballot box to accommodate EVM mistrust

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  • Published 24.07.10

Hyderabad, July 23: Ballots the size of newspapers and ballot boxes big enough to hold a large TV set. Voting to continue late into the evening, or night.

By-elections are usually not big on paper but the July 27 bypolls in Andhra Pradesh are all about size, and all because they will partly be held “on paper”.

Voters in five of the 12 poll-bound constituencies will have to stamp a ballot — a practice the state last saw in the late ’90s — rather than press a button. For, the electronic voting machines allow a maximum of 64 candidates but each of these five constituencies has more.

To accommodate so many candidates’ names, the ballot papers will have to be large, as will the ballot boxes, and voting will be slow as the voters search for their preferred candidate’s name down the broadsheet-sized paper.

To hurry things up and avoid voter confusion, the Election Commission has come up with a couple of deviations from practice. The candidates’ names will not be printed in alphabetical order on the ballot, state chief electoral officer I.V. Subba Rao said.

“The names of the candidates from the four main contenders — the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, Telugu Desam, Congress and the BJP — will be mentioned at the top so that the voters need not read through the huge ballot paper,” Rao said.

However, some voters may still be confused, and handling and folding the huge ballot will take time too. The commission estimates that each voter would take at least two minutes. Therefore, voting at the 1,188 polling stations in the five constituencies may continue into the night, going beyond the usual 5pm deadline.

But how did the five constituencies — Sircilla (78 candidates), Yellareddy (75), Warangal West (74), Huzurabad (69) and Korutla (67) — come to have so many contestants?

Telangana Rashtra Samiti sources claim credit for that. The party deliberately fielded a large number of “dummy candidates” to ensure the total rose over 64, the sources say.

The Telangana Rashtra Samiti wants voting by ballot because, it alleges, the voting machines were tampered with in favour of Congress candidates in last year’s Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Andhra. The Election Commission says the machines are virtually tamper-proof and reduce the advantage to be gained from booth-capturing.

The biggest ballot paper that the Election Commission has had to print till now came 14 years ago, in the form of a leaflet, when 1,033 candidates joined the fray in Modaurichi Assembly seat of Tamil Nadu. In 1994, the Nalgonda Lok Sabha seat in Andhra witnessed a contest among 485 candidates.

The 12 seats going to the July 27 polls fell vacant after 10 MLAs from the Telangana Rashtra Samiti and one each from the Telugu Desam and the BJP resigned during the Telangana statehood row.