Between the months of April and May, India will go through the world’s largest democratic exercise – the 2019 General Elections. As the country goes to polls from April 11 to May 19, with the results set to be announced on May 23, the Election Commission has called upon parties to strictly comply with the Model Code of Conduct – the do’s and don’ts which parties and leaders need to adhere to in the run-up to the general elections.
The numbers are staggering – 10 lakh polling stations, 90 crore voters and more than 10 crore elections officials who will travel across the breadth and width of the country to reach the remotest parts of India.
The 2019 General Elections will see more accountability as parties are now required to furnish criminal antecedents of their candidates thrice on media before the elections. It will also see social media gaining prominence and measures being taken to prevent misuse and mischief.
Let’s take a look at all the interesting facts and firsts that will make 2019 General Elections different from its predecessors:
By women for women: Women would be a major force to reckon with this year, and going by the trend, the 2019 elections are likely to see more women voting than men. The year 2014 created history for the largest ever female turnout during any election – 65.63 per cent women headed to the polling stations and cast their vote, as compared to 67.1 male voters – the gender gap was down to 1.8 per cent in 2014, compared to 8.4 per cent in 2004. This year, in a bid to attract a higher female voter turnout, the Commission also has plans to set up pink voting booths which will be exclusively managed by women officials.
Younger demography: Around 15 million youngsters in the age group of 18-19 are expected to vote for the first time during these elections. Since the young voters are more mobile and better connected, candidates and political parties are ditching the hoardings, posters and campaign songs and aggressively using social media platforms to reach out to them. This also means that the chances of misuse of technology and the spread of fake news are greater. Overall, there will be 84.3 million more voters than in 2014 who will be eligible to vote in 2019.
Controls on candidates: In order to eliminate confusion, the faces of the candidates will be displayed along with their party symbols on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) used during the elections. The EVMs will also feature the candidate name in Braille. Candidates will need to furnish details of their income for the past five years in their poll affidavit. They would also need to divulge offshore assets, apart from having to furnish details of their social media accounts.
Social media code of conduct: With social media playing such a major role during the polls, the Election Commission has brought social media sites under the model code of conduct. The pre-certified political advertising rules will apply to social media sites as well, as per Chief Election Commissioner, Sunil Arora. Hence, all social media sites including Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Share Chat would need to adhere to the silence period which will come into effect 48 hours before the elections. The district and state level media certification and monitoring committees will also have a social media expert on board. The EC has also asked social media firms to appoint grievance officers who will need to handle complaints.
More vigil: The EC has launched an app called c-Vigil which will monitor all malpractices and violations of the model code of conduct. Users will be able to report on any malpractices that they come across by uploading live photos/videos with auto location capture which will then provide digital proof to the special flying squads that have been set up to look into the complaints. According to the EC, complaints on the app will be attended to in 100 minutes.
Voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT): The Election Commission has introduced voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), which will verify voting in all polling booths across the country. Previously used only in Assembly elections and bypolls, VVPATs allow voters to verify that their votes have been cast correctly, thus helping prevent fraud. The VVPAT, which is attached to the EVM, will dispense a slip with the name and party symbol of the candidate each time a voter casts his/her vote. The slip then drops into a sealed container, ensuring that the machine is not hacked. To further enhance security, the last mile transportation of the EVMs will also be tracked through GPS systems.
For voters: Voters will have to carry any of the 12 approved identity cards to the polling station since, unlike the previous elections, a photo voter slip will not be enough. This is for security reasons as the photo voter slip does not provide any additional security feature. The EC has also made it more convenient for voters to get information regarding their enrolment. Voters can now use the Voter Helpline Mobile App, log on to www.nvsp.in portal or use the toll-free helpline n umber 1950.