Karnataka state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Manoj Kumar Meena was all praise for the electorate — specifically the youth — for their enthusiastic participation in the Assembly elections on Wednesday, 10 May.
The voter turnout was an impressive 73.19 percent, higher than 71.83 and 72.44 percent recorded in 2013 and 2018, respectively.
Men and women voters came out to vote in almost equal numbers. He reserved special praise for persons with disabilities and the elderly, who, set aside their difficulties and participated in the exercise, the biggest festival in a vibrant democracy.
Meena also complimented his team for their professional and efficient handling of the poll process.
“Except for a couple of stray incidents of violence in Vijayapura and Mysuru, the Karnataka General Assembly polls went off peacefully,” he told South First in an interview in which the CEO explained the elaborate process that made the show spectacular.
Karnataka elections: Beyond the exit polls, what voting trends suggest
Q. How did it go on Wednesday? What were your expectations from your team?
A. It was a well-organised, well-planned exercise and the plans were put in place much ahead — like we had a calendar for six months. We planned six months ahead of the polls.
Each activity was mapped, and from the Election Commission of India (ECI) to the bottom, all activities were reviewed and scrutinised at every level. It is a practice in the Election Commission that we plan ahead and then execute it. Nothing is left to chance or for last-minute planning. It is the one thing that helped in this election.
Q. Did the polling officials face any issues? How did you solve them? Did the experience of previous elections help?
A. We have been holding elections since 1952. During each election, we review what had wrong and what went right. Now, after this election, too, I have to debrief the ECI and it will enquire about what had gone wrong and right. These lessons will be shared with other states and then things will evolve.
We improvise and improve. So each election is a learning experience for all of us. If we were unable to do anything this time, we will find a way to do it better. We keep updating ourselves. Planning for the polls six months in advance helped us. We executed the plans in a time-bound manner.
Q. South First saw that except for the soaring mercury and no shade for voters at some polling stations in Bengaluru, everything else was managed well.
A. It is a defined job — with planning that we went over in the past six months. We were sceptical that the soaring mercury level might affect the turnout this time. However, it was nice to see people turning up to vote.
All of us know what we have to do and what we have to attend to. Whatever has to be done until this day and the next day had to be followed up diligently. The crux is to follow up on each day’s activities that we have already planned for 10 May and 13 May (the day of counting).
All daily activities in different fields have been measured. Time management, too, was measured. So we have to check if the task has been completed or not. At each level, we have to ask and check with the deputy commissioner, assistant commissioners, returning officers, and tehsildars, and they will further go down for a follow-up at each level to see that a particular activity should happen on time and qualitatively.
Q. Did technical glitches or EVM replacements affect the polling?
A. We had a total of 58,545 polling stations. A total of 62,988 Balloting Units (BUs) along with 58,545 Control Units (CUs) and 58,545 Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) were used on the day of polling.
The number of reserve units we had were 13,242 BUs, 12,371 CUs, and 18,559 VVPATs throughout the state. The EVMs that malfunctioned and were replaced during polling were 184 Ballot Units (0.29%), 171 Control Units (0.29%) and 1,588 VVPATs, which is 2.71 percent.
However, during the mock polling drill, BUs and CUs that malfunctioned and replaced were 144, which is (0.23%) and 207 (0.35%), respectively. Malfunctions comprise different errors that may come, like the timing going wrong, improper display, buzzer not working, the light failing to glow while pressing the blue button, etc.
Whenever there is an error, we have to report it, and we have to replace the machine. VVPATs are much more sensitive machines as it has four delicate sensors. The only problem with EVM malfunctioning is that replacing it will take not less than 30 minutes. During this time, people waiting in the queue become restless, especially due to the soaring temperature. It was the only issue. Otherwise, everything went smoothly.
Karnataka elections: ‘Excited’ first-time voters and ‘experienced’ elderly steal the show
Q. What were the major cases reported during polling? How many police cases were registered?
A. Two major incidents were the Vijayapura and Mysuru’s Chamundeshwari constituency incidents. At Vijayapura, when the reserve sector officer along with other staff were carrying reserve EVMs and VVPATs from Basavana Bagewadi strongroom to Masabinal village in a car, a mob of around 100 to 150 people gheraoed the vehicle near a temple and attacked the staff.
Soon after the police were informed, they arrived and resorted to a lathi-charge to disperse the crowd and save the officials and their property. The officer’s car and the reserve EVMs along with VVPATs were vandalised and destroyed. The police have taken up a case and have so far arrested 24 people.
However, the incident did not affect the polling process.
In Mysuru, a voter identified as Shivamurthy entered a polling booth in Chamundeshwari to vote. All of a sudden, he threw the EVM’s control unit on the floor and damaged it. The polling officers replaced the control unit within 30 minutes and the polling resumed. Later, the police learnt from the villagers that the man was not of sound mental health.
And in Tokara village in Chamarajanagar’s Hanur constituency, a person, Puttaswamy (44), was returning after casting his vote around 3 pm when he was trampled by an elephant and killed. The incident occurred near the Ramapura polling station.
The state police registered around 12 cases. However, incidents of cash seizure, arguments and minor clashes between groups of party supporters were also reported.
Q. How was it after polling? What is happening at present at the de-mustering centres?
A. We did not face any issues while shifting polling materials. First, we transported polling materials, including EVMs, under police cover to the de-mustering centres. These centres are located at every Assembly constituency level and get all materials from all polling stations under it.
Similarly, the polling materials were distributed to the polling stations from the mustering centres. At de-mustering centres, we collect/receive all machines polling station-wise and they are then sorted. Once all polling materials are received and all the polling data verified, we send these materials to the counting centres where they are sealed inside strongrooms in the presence of the election observer and the candidates.
Counting centres are situated in all districts, usually in a single building. Since Bengaluru is a huge city, there are four counting centres: Bengaluru Central, North, South and Bengaluru Urban. There is one counting centre for Bengaluru rural.
Now, all machines have been sealed at the counting centres’ strongrooms, and the scrutiny of the poll papers is going on. The observers will scrutinise complaints filed by party members. On 13 May, the strongrooms will be opened in the presence of observers and candidates.