NEW DELHI: Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer Ranbir Singh sits down with The Morning Standard to reflect on the Assembly election, the likes of which the national capital hadn’t seen in the recent past.
How would you look back on this election?
It was an intense but exciting exercise. Many new initiatives were undertaken and the priority was to ensure each voter exercises his/her right to franchise. We introduced the postal ballot system for senior citizens, PWD and government officials. We also arranged personalized assistance for centenarian voters, as we wanted to appreciate their lifelong faith in democracy. We also introduced the booth app, albeit on a trial basis, this time. We’ve set sights on rolling it out elsewhere as it would put an end to data-related issues.
What kinds of preparations were taken this time?
The polling attendants were sent to their designated centres a day before voting. The move enabled the officials to adjust themselves to the surroundings. It also helped them understand the polling process. In the Lok Sabha election, 12.5 per cent of the VVPAT machines had to be replaced. Six per cent of them were found to have mal-functioned in the mock poll stage. This time, however, only 1% was replaced.
How much does a CEO personally oversee the enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC)?
Even when the MCC is in force, the parties or candidates often tend to ignore or violate it. However, the EC was very strict this time. We issued four gag orders and acted against those found to have violated the code. We also took prompt action against those making hate speeches. We also kept a check on social media posts and acted in the event of violation. We forced parties to bring their campaign rhetoric to normal, as they were aware of the consequences if they didn’t.
What were the biggest challenges?
Ensuring law and order was the biggest challenge. Protests were on (against CAA) going into the elections and there was a risk of parties taking advantage of the situation. But the police did a great job.
Was there any apprehension of violence?
In the event of violence, one has to be careful, proactive and keep alternative plans in place. So of course, there were apprehensions. We had to remain vigilant.
Why did it take longer than usual to declare the final polling percentage?
There’s a tendency to think that the figures may be manipulated. However, the final trends were already out. At many booths, polling went on till well into the evening. We had to club postal ballots and VVPATs before sealing them. Some strong rooms were sealed the morning after. The process takes time. It’s unfortunate how the timing of the release of the final polling figure was politicised.
Any reason why the voting percentage dropped this year?
There were around 10 lakh registered voters. Some might have shifted elsewhere. The turnout was higher compared to the LS polls.