Saturday, April 19, 2014

Polling booth agent

I was the polling booth agent for Seema School, room #2, booth number 156 on behalf of Nina P Nayak (Aam Aadmi Party candidate for South Bangalore) at 1st block Koramangala.  I would like to begin by first thanking Aam Aadmi Party for giving me this opportunity. What a humbling experience it was just to sit there and watch people vote.

My Experience
The day begins by PRO calling me to participate in checking that the voting machine is working correctly. I hesitate for a second to take my foot forward. Is he really asking me? He does not know yet that i have never seen a voting machine in my life so far. After a second, i say ofcourse and with complete feigned confidence, I go towards the machine. There are 23 candidates at booth number 156 and the 24th option was of NOTA. Independent candidates had all kinds of interesting symbols which included TV, Mixee, cricket bat, cricket batsman, Lalten, trumpet and an autorickshaw.  The BJP and Congress agents were both late and they arrived only after the mock poll was finished.

The queue had already started to build at 6:45 am. Throughout the day, I was taken by the commitment of folks who had come out to vote. I did not know whether they voted for AAP or not but everyone felt very happy to have came out and voted. Their face glowed with satisfaction for having done their duty towards their beloved country. Their nation had demanded a small service from them and they were here to deliver it.

There were three people who had come on a wheel chair to cast their vote. Each was handicapped in some way. The voting machine was resting on a table that was not wheel chair friendly. The PRO helped each one, it was still difficult yet they proudly exercised their franchise. There were about ten folks who were old and were walking using a stick. They too waited patiently inside the booth for their turn. Age did not deter these folks. Except for a minor heated discussion, which involved the BJP agent and a voter, the entire process from morning to evening was peaceful. Everyone understood the importance of this exercise, they were calm and thoroughly professional.

There were atleast 8 people who came with the slip but without any proof of identification. They were asked to get their id cards. Everyone expected their disappointment about it with one man whose wife had no identification got agitated and yelled - "She is my wife and i am saying so. If you do not let her vote, it is country's loss not his". Most of these folks went back to their homes, got their respective ids, stood in the queue again and finally voted. The man who shouted did not came back. Some folks got their kids to accompany them to the ballot box. Their young ones were really excited to be there, especially during ink marking. A couple of them even wanted it on their fingers.

There were about 5 or 6 couples who had come where the husband was leading his respective wife through the entire checking in process. He had her photo id proof, he told her where to sign and asked her to show her left thumb to get the ink mark. In one case, a man even held his wife's thumb. He even tried to accompany her to the ballot box but that is when our PRO stood up and reminded him that her ballot is a secret, even from him.  He expressed surprise but quickly understood.  In one day, I came to see another side of my fellow countrymen that is generally not visible.

When we watch the results being announced in TV, X party got Y seats, the process of elections is generally lost in those numbers and analysis. To witness the gullak (piggy bank) being filled one vote at a time, to see the queue of people waiting peacefully and to imagine that such is happening across thousands of booths - same everywhere, it is indeed a humbling experience. When polling happens in free and fair manner, and when people come out to vote not because of any reward or punishment, then the significance of 60% turnout, which amounts to hundred millions in absolute number of votes, is incredible. It is just an amazing feat to accomplish in a country like India. The whole day, I was reminded of these lines from the song Yeh Tara -

बूँद बूँद मिलने से, बनता एक दरिया है
बूँद बूँद सागर है, वरना ये सागर क्या है
समझो इस पहेली को, बूँद हो अकेली तो
एक बूँद जैसे कुच्छ भी नहीं
हम औरों को छोड़े तो, मुँह सबसे ही मुड़े तो
तन्हा रहना जाए देखो हम कहीं
क्यूँ ना बने मिलके हम धारा ह्म..आरा तारा  

ये तारा वो तारा हर तारा 
देखो जिससे भी लगे प्यारा
ये तारा वो तारा हर तारा
ये सब साथ में जो है रात में
तो जगमगाया आसमान सारा  

Some Stats
A total of 830 ballots were casted at my booth by 831 people. One person had come and done everything but did not press anything in the machine. Out of 830, 470 were men while 360 were women. The first 4 hrs (7-11 am) had about 100+ folks coming in each hr. The time from 9 am to 10 am was the busiest as 114 votes were cast in that hr, roughly about two votes every minute. The rate dropped drastically after 11 am.

It was expected that turnout will pick up after 4 pm but that did not happen. Interestingly, between 3 pm to 6 pm there were more women voters than men voters in each hr. The morning hrs had more families walking in and also a lot of elderly people as compared to later half. The second half had a lot of individuals. This time, in anticipation of a higher turnout, EC had increased the deadline from 5 pm to 6pm. In the last hr, at booth #156, only 24 people came to vote which comprised of 8 men and 16 women. So an extra hr meant around 2.9% extra votes based on one booth data.

As the day progressed, we had some free time on our hands which i utilized by asking my corner case questions to the EC officials.  Here are some of them -

Q: What will happen if a person presses multiple keys on the voting machine?
A: Whichever key was pressed first will be registered. All others would be ignored.

Q: Where do you mark a person who has no fingers?
A: The marking is done on left elbow.

Q: For people who are assigned duties for managing the polling booths, how/when do they vote?
A: They vote by postal ballot. Every such individual gets a postal letter which they have to fill and return by a specific date. Their votes are only counted if there is a small difference between the first two candidates' vote share.

Q: Why are you putting the ink on left thumb instead of index finger this time?
A: There were some local elections few days ago in Karnataka. Some of the people who voted may still have ink marks on their fingers. In order to avoid confusion, the finger was changed to thumb.

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