How Elections Work

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How Elections Work

The 16th General Elections are upon us. They are of twin interest to most of our readers. One, as informed citizens and prospective electors. And two, as civil services aspirants looking for in-depth details about an event of such an importance :)
To these ends, we would like to bring to your attention the many press releases Election Commission has been making to improve the public knowledge about the elections and to stoke the public curiosity about the giant machinery behind these elections.
While some of the releases are extremely informative about different aspects of elections (e.g. National party status, provisions of RP Act), some are insightful analyses (e.g reasons for increase in election expenditure, increase in contestants per seat over the years), some of them are simply fun analyses (e.g. increase in number of graduates, more candidates losing their deposits, etc.) and some of them are analyses regarding the size of the electorate in 2014. 
Nevertheless, browse through all of them to know more about how elections work in India. Even if you might not expect direct MCQs from them, they can be relevant for analytical questions in Mains and Essay paper. Most of the releases have accompanying colorful graphs and diagrams to visualize and understand the facts better.

Here are the relevant press releases divided into three categories (more articles will be added as and when updated by the Election Commission).

A. Useful Information about the General Elections:
1. Info-graphic on Parliamentary Elections of India

Click to magnify

This wonderful info-graphic captures pretty much every important aspect of the general elections in a nutshell. If you are going to read only one thing about the Elections, make it this:  Click here for PDF of press release 

2. Democratic colors of United India: 

  • If we ask you to hazard a guess as to how many political parties participated in the Lok Sabha elections of 2009, there is a big probability of your answer going well off the mark. As many as 363 political parties participated in the Yajna of democracy contesting 543 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 elections. 

  • Out of these 363, only seven were recognized as ‘National Parties’ by the Election Commission of India. These seven parties were (in alphabetical order): Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPM, Indian National Congress (INC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

  • From the remaining 356 parties, 34 parties were recognized as State partiesand the remaining 322 were registered but unrecognized political parties.

Click here for the full press release.

3. Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951:

  • Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 prohibits displaying any election matter by means of television or similar apparatus, during the period of 48 hours before the hour fixed for conclusion of poll in a constituency.  “Election matter” has been defined in that Section as any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election. TV/Radio channels and cable networks should ensure that the contents of the programme telecast/broadcast/displayed by them during the period of 48 hours do not contain any material, including views/appeals by panelists/participants that may be construed as promoting/prejudicing the prospect of any particular party or candidate(s) or influencing/affecting the result of the election. This shall include display of any opinion poll and of standard debates, analysis, visuals and sound-bytes. Violation of the aforesaid provisions of Section 126 is punishable with imprisonment upto a period of two years, or with fine or both.

  • Section 126A of the R.P. Act 1951 prohibits conduct of Exit poll and dissemination of their results during the period mentioned therein, i.e. the hour fixed for commencement of poll in the first phase and half hour after the time fixed for close of poll for the last phase in all the States.

Click here for the full press release.

4. Dynamics of elevation of political parties to State or National Party: 

  • Any Indian citizen who is more than 25 years old and is registered as a voter can contest elections even without forming a party. Similarly, associations can also contest elections without getting registered by the Election Commission. They, however, will not be identified as   political parties and hence will not be eligible for availing of benefits under the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RPA).

  • There are many benefits of registering a party. Firstly, the RPA allows political parties to accept contributions voluntarily offered to it by any person or company other than a government company. Apart from this, candidates of registered parties get preference in allotment of election symbols. Other Candidates are identified as independents and do not get preference in symbol allocation.

  • Registered political parties, in course of time, can get recognition as `State Party’ or National Party’ subject to the fulfillment of the conditions prescribed by the Commission.

  • If a party is recognised as a State Party’, it is entitled for exclusive allotment of its reserved symbol to the candidates set up by it in the State in which it is so recognised, and if a party is recognised as a `National Party’ it is entitled for exclusive allotment of its reserved symbol to the candidates set up by it throughout India. Recognised `State’ and `National’ parties need only one proposer for filing the nomination and are also entitled for two sets of electoral rolls free of cost at the time of revision of rolls and their candidates get one copy of electoral roll free of cost during General Elections. Further they get broadcast/telecast facilities over Akashvani/Doordarshan during general elections. Political parties are entitled to nominate “Star Campaigners” during General Elections. A recognized National or State party can have a maximum of 40 “Star campaigners” and a registered un-recognised party can nominate a maximum of 20 ‘Star Campaigners”. The travel expenses of star campaigners are not to be accounted for in the election expense accounts of candidates of their party.

  • A political party shall be treated as a recognised political party in a State, if and only if the political party fulfills any of the following conditions:

    • At General Elections or Legislative Assembly elections, the party has won 3% of seats in the legislative assembly of the State ( subject to a minimum of 3 seats).

    • At a Lok Sabha General Elections, the party has won 1 Lok sabha seat for every 25 Lok Sabha seat allotted for the State.

    • At a General Election to Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly , the party has polled minimum of 6% of votes in a State  and in addition it has won 1 Lok Sabha or 2 Legislative Assembly seats.

    • At a General Election to Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly, the party has polled 8% of votes in a State.

  • For National Status:

    • The party wins 2% of seats in the Lok Sabha (11 seats) from at least 3 different States.

    • At a General Election to Lok Sabha or Legislative Assembly, the party polls 6% of votes in four States and in addition it wins 4 Lok Sabha seats.

    • A party gets recognition as State Party in four or more States.

    • Both national and state parties have to fulfill these conditions for all subsequent Lok Sabha or State elections. Else, they lose their status.

Click Here for the full press release.

5. Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT)

  • VVPAT is a method of providing feedback to voters using a ballot less voting system. VVPAT is intended as an independent verification system for electronic voting machines that allows voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended and can serve as an additional barrier to changing or destroying votes.

  • Under VVPAT, a printer-like apparatus is linked to Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). When a vote is cast, a receipt is generated showing the serial number, name and symbol of the candidate. It confirms the vote and the voter can verify the details. The receipt, once viewed, goes inside a container linked to the EVM and can only be accessed by the election officers in rarest of rare cases.

  • The system allows a voter to challenge his or her vote on basis of the paper receipt for the first time. As per a new rule, the booth presiding officer will have to record the dissent of the voter, which would have to be taken into account at time of counting.

  • The VVPAT system was not manufactured due to doubts on the EVM, but was part of the up gradation of the system.

Image of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) with EVM

6. EVM - Electronic Voting Machine

  • Free and fair elections are central to the democratic ethos of any country. This includes fair, accurate, and transparent electoral process with outcomes that can be independently verified. Conventional voting accomplishes many of these goals. 

  • However, electoral malpractices like bogus voting and booth capturing pose a serious threat to spirit of electoral democracy. It has, thus, been the endeavour of the Election Commission of India to make reforms in the electoral process to ensure free and fair elections. 

  • EVMs, devised and designed by Election Commission of India in collaboration with two Public Sector undertakings viz., Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangalore and Electronics Corporation of India Limited, Hyderabad, is a major step in this direction.

  • Electronic Voting Machines ("EVM") are being used in Indian General and State Elections to implement electronic voting in part from 1999 elections and in total since 2004 elections. 

  • Advantages of EVMs:

    • The EVMs reduce the time in both casting a vote and declaring the results compared to the old paper ballot system. 

    • Bogus voting and booth capturing can be greatly reduced by the use of EVMs. 

    • Illiterate people find EVMs easier than ballot paper system. 

    • They are easier to transport the EVMs compared to ballot boxes.

  • Salient Features of EVMs:

    • It is tamper proof: Program which controls the functioning of the control unit is burnt into a micro chip on a “one time programmable basis”. Once burnt it cannot be read, copied out or altered.

    • Eliminates the possibility of invalid votes, makes the counting process faster and reduces the cost of printing.

    • An EVM can be used in areas without electricity as it runs on alkaline batteries.

    • Elections can be conducted through EVMs if the number of candidates does not exceed 64.

    • An EVM can record a maximum number of 3840 votes.

7. Booth Level Officer: A Representative of Election Commission at the Grass-Root Level: 

  • Booth Level Officer (BLO) is a local Government/Semi-Government official, familiar with the local electors and generally a voter in the same polling area who assists in updating the roll using his local knowledge. In fact, BLO is a representative of Election Commission of India (ECI) at the grass-root level who plays a pivotal role in the process of roll revision and collecting actual field information with regard to the roll corresponding to the polling area assigned to him. 

  • BLOs are appointed from amongst the officers of the Govt. /Semi Govt. /Local Bodies. Generally, one BLO is responsible for one part of the electoral roll. From August, 2006 the Commission has decided to introduce the concept of appointing BLOs who would be accountable for ensuring the fidelity of electoral roll. 

  • The ECI introduced this new system of appointing BLOs creating a clear line of accountability for preparation of an error-free electoral roll, making the BLOs its custodian at the polling booth level. Previously, voter-identification slips used to be distributed by the contesting candidates of various political parties and that gave scope for complaints. The preparation of accurate electoral rolls and direct distribution of voter identification slip by the BLOs also boosted voter confidence in the credibility of the election process. 

  • BLO assists eligible citizens to become voters and obtain voter card. BLO provides those different forms for addition, deletion and correction of Electoral Roll entries, carries out physical verification, and gives his/her report to Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) .The BLO interacts with local people/ political parties’ representatives and identifies dead/shifted/duplicate voters to be removed from the electoral roll after due process of law.

Click here for the full press release.

B. Analyses of the trends in successive General Elections:

8. Election Expenditure per elector up by twenty times in 2009 compared to first General Elections: 

  • Every election requires a huge amount of resources and efforts, be it planning, labour, technology, and for that matter, money. Government’s expenditure on an elector has gone up twenty times from the first General Elections to the Fifteenth General Elections. In the first elections, the Government spent Rs 0.60 on an elector whereas it went on spending Rs 12 in 2009 General Elections. Considering expenditure in absolute terms, Rs 10 Crore were spent in 1951-52 whereas Rs 847 Crore was the amount the Government spent for 2009 General Elections!

  • Cost wise, 2004 General Elections was the heaviest on government exchequer with about Rs 1,114 Crore spent in the elections. Significantly, there was increase in the election cost by 18% vis-à-vis 1999 General Elections even when there was reduction in number of polling stations by 11%.

  • Keeping devaluation of money owing to inflation into account, the rise in election expenditure could be attributed to: 

    • Increased level of democratic activities. 

    • Many political parties started into being; 

    • More independents were now participating. 

  • Various voter-friendly initiatives may increase expenditure further like: 

    • voter awareness campaigns

    • distribution of voter slip ahead of election date, 

    • use of Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) for the first time in General Elections 2014. 

  • The entire expenditure on actual conduct of elections to Lok Sabha is borne by Government of India. But expenditure towards law & order maintenance is born by respective State Governments.

Click here for the full press release.

9. Contestants crossed twenty five per seat in 1996 General Elections from about four in 1952 Elections: 

  • There used to be only around three to five contestants per Lok Sabha seats till as late as sixth Lok Sabha elections in 1977. For the first Lok Sabha in 1952, there were 1874 candidates for 489 seats averaging 4.67* contestants per seat while in 1957 number of contestants for 494 seats was 1519, averaging 3.77* per seat. In 1977 the number of contestants per seat was 4.50 per seats as there were only 2349 candidates were in fray for 542 seats.

  • However, this trend (of having 3 to 5 candidates per seat) witnessed a big shift in 1980 when the elections for the seventh Lok Sabha were held. There were 4629 candidates wooing the voters for 542 seats, thus averaging 8.75 contestants for each Lok Sabha seat.

  • With constant increase in the number of contestants in the successive Lok Sabha elections, the average of per seat contestants also continued to rise gradually but in 1996, a sudden hike in average with 25.69 candidates per seat indicated an abnormal shift. There were a record number of 13,952 candidates in fray for 543 Lok Sabha seats, bringing the average of per seat contestants to 25.69 from 16.38 in the previous elections in 1991.

  • The Election Commission of India hiked the amount of the security deposit from a merely Rs.500 to Rs.10, 000 which apparently, helped in bringing down the number of contestants per seat to 8.75 candidates in 1998 Lok Sabha elections when after a long gap, the total number of contestants was less than 5000 which only rose marginally in 1999 general elections to 4648 candidates, averaging 8.56 candidates per seat. 

  • In 2004, the figure of contestants again crossed 5000 mark with 5435 contestants in fray for the same number of 543 Lok Sabha seats, averaging just over 10 contestants per seat. In 2009 General Elections total 8070 candidates contested for 543 Lok Sabha seats, thus the average rose sharply to 14.86.

*up to 1957 election, certain constituencies were representing 2 or 3 seats.

Click here for the full press release

10. Voter turnout in General Elections 2009: Lowest in J&K and Highest in Nagaland:

  • General Elections 2009 witnessed voter turnout above 58 percent.  

  • Voters wise big States like UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, MP, Gujarat had turnout well below the national average. The biggest state, UP had a voter turnout of 48%, more than 10 percentage points lower while Bihar had just 44%. 

  • Lowest voter turnout at 40% was registered in J&K. Gujarat with 48% and Rajasthan with 48% voter turnout were amid top five states with lowest voter turnout.

  • On the other hand, North Eastern states had very good voter turnout except Mizoram (51.8%). Nagaland had highest turnout of 90% followed by Tripura and Sikkim. West Bengal also had very good turnout of 81. 

  • Southern states had an impressive voter turnout with Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh at 73%. Karnataka was just above the national average.

Click Here for the full press release

11. Forfeiture of Deposit Not A Deterrent in Contesting Elections: 

  • Apart from the fact that who is winner and who is runner-up, another fact which interests people in elections is that how many contesting candidates could save their security deposits. As per the Election Commission of India Rules, if the candidate fails to get a minimum of one-sixth of the total valid votes polled, the deposit goes to the treasury.

  • In First Lok Sabha Elections in 1951-52, almost 40% i.e. 745 out of 1874 candidates forfeited their deposits. Since then, almost all Lok Sabha Elections witnessed northward trend of lost deposits. Its peak came in the 11th Lok Sabha Elections in 1996, where 91 percent or 12688 out of 13952 candidates lost their deposits. In 2009 Lok Sabha Elections 85 percent of the candidates lost their deposits. It shows that forfeiture of deposit has not been a deterrent for not contesting elections.

  • Candidates from National parties have fared relatively well in saving their deposits. In 2009 elections, 779 out of 1623 candidate from national parties lost their deposits.

Click here for the full press release.

12. Record increase in number of post-graduates in 15th Lok Sabha: 

  • Though there is no educational qualification stipulated in the Constitution of India to contest the elections, the emerging trend suggests more and more academically educated candidates are winning the elections.

  • 15th Lok Sabha does not have even a single illiterate member. Number of under-matriculates members has fallen sharply from 112 in 1st Lok Sabha to 20 in 15th Lok Sabha. 15th Lok Sabha has seen a record increase in number of post-graduates taking the number of such members to 256 as compared to 157 in 14th Lok Sabha. In fact 15th Lok Sabha has around 78% of the members having graduate, post-graduate or doctorate degree! 

Click here for the full press release.

13. Twenty Nine Winners Got Less Than 30% of Total Votes Polled in 2009 General Elections 

  • In 2009 Lok Sabha Elections, there were twenty nine winning candidates who got less than 30% of votes polled. State wise, Uttar Pradesh had 14 such winners whereas Jharkhand had 6 candidates winning with less than 30% of votes polled in their respective constituencies. Bihar had five such winners.

  •  RJD won Buxar Lok Sabha seat in Bihar getting 21.27% of total votes polled for its candidate, which was the lowest percentage of votes bagged by any winner.

Click here for the full press release.
14. Party Wise Performance in SC Constituencies in Last Two General Elections

  • For 2009 general elections out of total 543 seats of Lok Sabha, 84 seats were reserved for Scheduled Castes. Of which 17 seats were in Uttar Pradesh only. West Bengal had 10 reserved seats for SC’s followed by Andhra Pradesh & Tamilnadu with 7 seats each.

  • Coming to performance of political parties on SC seats in 2009 general elections, Indian National Congress (INC) won 30 seats, followed by Bhartiya Janata Party with 12 seats. In 2004 General Elections BJP bagged 18 seats, followed by INC with 14.

Click here for the full press release.

15. Party Wise Performance in ST Constituencies in last two General Elections

  • For 2009 general elections out of total 543 seats of Lok Sabha, 47 seats were reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Of which 6 seats were in Madhya Pradesh only, it was followed by Jharkhand and Orissa with 5 seats each. In 2004 elections ST reserved seats were 41 only.

  • Coming to performance of political parties on ST seats, in 2009 general elections, Indian National Congress (INC) won 20 seats, followed by Bhartiya Janata Party with 13 seats. In 2004 BJP got 15 seats, followed by INC with 14.

Click here for the full press release.

16. Representation of women in Lok Sabha

  • Representation of women members in Lok Sabha and their participation in general elections as contestants are increasing. General Election- 2009 sent the highest number of women in Lok Sabha, 59, while in previous House the number was 45.

  • The lowest number of women elected to the Lok Sabha was in 1977 when only 19 women reached the Lower House.

  • As far as women contestants is concerned, the highest number of women aspirants, 599, were in fray in 1996, followed by 556 women candidates in 2009 and 355 in 2004. It was in 1980 for the 7th Lok Sabha when the women contestants crossed the mark of 100 as prior to that the number of women contestants was always below 100.

  • Women participation in contesting election has been much lower as compared to men. General Elections 2009 witnessed a good number of women candidates participating in the race for the 15th Lok Sabha. Out of 556 women in all, 134 contested from the National parties while 27 were given tickets from State Parties. Others included 188 from Registered Parties (Unrecognized) and 207 independents. In General Elections 2009, BJP fielded 44 women contestants while INC fielded 43 women. Out of these, 23 women contestants from INC and 13 women contestants from BJP won the Elections.

  • But the winning percentage of women contestants had always been higher with respect to male contestant’s right from first election to creation of 15th Lok Sabha.

Click here for the full press release.

C. Analyses of the different aspects of the size of Indian Electorate:

17. A Snapshot of the Indian Electorate for the 2014 General Elections

  • There are a total of 81.4 crore registered electors in the country.  

  • Among states, Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of electors with more than 13.4 crore electors or 16.5% of the national electorate, while Sikkim has the smallest number of electors with around 3.62 lakh electors.

  • Among the UTs, the National Capital Territory of Delhi accounts for largest number of electors.

Click here for the full press release.

18. Gender-Wise Composition of the Indian Electorate: 

  • Male electors constitute 52.4%, female electors 47.6% and electors belonging to the category “Others” constitute 0.0035%.

  • Puducherry has the highest proportion of female electors with 52% female electors, followed by Kerala with 51.9%. 

  • The National Capital Territory of Delhi has the lowest proportion of female electors at 44.6%, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 45.2% female electors.

Click here for the full press release.
19. Newly Eligible Electors: 

  • There are 2.3 crore electors aged between 18 and 19 years out of a total of 81.4 crore electors in the country, thus constituting 2.8% of the national electorate. 

  • Dadra & Nagar Haveli has the highest proportion of newly eligible electors at 9.9%, followed next by Jharkhand at 9%. 

  • Andaman & Nicobar Islands at 1.1% has the lowest proportion of newly eligible electors, followed by Himachal Pradesh at 1.3%. 

  • In absolute numbers, Uttar Pradesh tops the list with more than 38.1 lakh electors aged between 18 and 19 years, followed by West Bengal with around 20.8 lakh electors in this age group.

Click here for the full press release.
20. Gender-wise composition of newly Eligible Electors: 

  • Out of a total of 2.3 crore Indian electors aged between 18 and 19 years, male electors constitute 59%, female electors 41% and electors belonging to the category “Others” constitute 0.018%.

  • Nagaland is the only state where the number of newly eligible female electors exceeds that of newly eligible male electors, with 50.4% female electors in this age group. 

  • Haryana has the lowest proportion at 28%

Click here for the full press release.
21. Comparison of the Indian Electorate from 1951–1952 To 2014: 

  • The total electorate size of the country grew about 4.7 times from 17.3 crore in the 1st General Elections of 1951–1952 to become 81.4 crore.

  • Gender-wise composition is available only from 1971 elections. The percentage of female electors has consistently been around 48%.

Click here for the full press release.

22. An Analysis of the Indian Electorate from 1998 (12th General Elections) To 2014: 

  • The total electorate size of the country grew by 34% from 60.5 crore in 1998 to reach 81.4 crore in 2014.

  • Among states, West Bengal registered the highest rate of growth at 32% in past 10 years since 2004 elections!

  • Click here for the full press release.

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