The curious case of fewer voters in a quarter of Lok Sabha seats

In a first, the total number of voters has fallen in 124 of the 485 constituencies that have voted in the first six phases of the Lok Sabha elections. It’s difficult to explain this with the heatwave or Covid deaths. So what is the reason behind the intriguing oddity?
Women queued up to cast their vote for general election in Ahmedabad.
Women queued up to cast their vote for general election in Ahmedabad. (Photo | AP)

In just over a quarter of all the constituencies covered till Phase 6 of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, fewer people came out to vote compared to the 2019 election. This has never happened before in India’s electoral history, since in a young and growing country the total population and the number of 18-year-olds who are eligible to vote only increase every year. So it is very rare to find a decline in the absolute number of voters between two five-year election cycles.

In Phase 6, where 58 constituencies finished polling, 17 of them, or 29 percent, saw a decline in voters vis-à-vis 2019, further confirming a trend spotted earlier.

Polling has now been completed in 485 constituencies across six phases. Some 575 million Indians have cast their votes in these constituencies, compared to 551 million in 2019, 495 million in 2014 and 371 million in 2009. Clearly, there has been an increase in the total number of people who came out to vote in these constituencies. This is what is expected in a growing country like India.

But these aggregates hide a surprising trend in 2024—124 of these 485 constituencies experienced a decline in the total number of voters from 2019. To put this in context, none of these constituencies saw a decline in voters in 2014 from 2009, and only 24 did in 2019 from 2014.

Most of these 124 constituencies that saw a decline are in eight states—Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Haryana.

As a share of the total seats in a state, 80 percent of the constituencies in Haryana, 70 percent in Kerala, nearly 60 percent in Rajasthan, and 50 percent in Tamil Nadu saw a decline in voters in 2024. There wasn’t a single constituency in these states that experienced a similar decline in either 2019 or 2014.

There is no discernible political pattern in these 124 constituencies, at least ostensibly. Fifty of them were won by non-NDA parties in 2019; 26 are reserved for SC/ST.

What explains the trend?

Half the seats in Phase 1 and 42 percent in Phase 2 witnessed a reduction. So it is more a reflection of the states that mostly polled in these phases—Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Phase 3, 16 percent of seats saw a decline, but just 3 percent in Phases 4 and 5 experienced this trend. In Phase 6, 29 percent of seats saw a decline. So there is no consistent pattern across phases and it is more a reflection of the states and seats that went to polls. Voter apathy is not an adequate explanation.

Covid deaths cannot be an explanation, too, because this pattern is not observed uniformly across states. Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Assam and Jharkhand do not have any constituencies where the total number of voters has fallen. While the more developed states that would have presumably experienced lower Covid deaths, such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have seen more than half their constituencies with fewer voters.

The heat wave cannot be an explanation either, since there is no consistent correlation between higher temperatures and these 124 constituencies.

How is it, then, that a quarter of seats saw fewer voters, but the overall turnout percentage in 2024 is the same as in 2014 and only slightly lower than 2019? The turnout in 2024 is 66 percent after six phases—the same as in 2014 and slightly lower than 2019’s 68 percent. But in the 124 seats where voter numbers fell this time, the turnout was 62 percent in 2024, against 66 percent in 2014 and 68 percent in 2019. So there was significant difference in turnout percentages in these seats compared to previous elections.

In the remaining 361 constituencies where there was no voter decline, the turnout in 2024 was 67 percent in 2024 vs 68 percent in 2019 and 66 percent in 2014. So it is not even the case that the turnout was much higher in the other three-fourths of constituencies to make up for the big fall in the quarter.

It is evident that there is something intriguing and surprising in voter turnout. What adds to the intrigue are ground reports showing videos of deliberate voter suppression in parts of UP.

Further, in Tamil Nadu, it is generally observed that the BJP or its ally is in a close contest in two out of the 39 constituencies— Coimbatore and Vellore. Intriguingly, it is exactly these two seats that saw the highest increase of 9 percent in total voters, when in most of the other 37 constituencies there was a decline. Similarly in Thrissur, which is perhaps the only constituency in Kerala where the BJP is expected to be in contest, there was a 4 percent increase in voters, while in most other constituencies there was a reduction. How is it that a few constituencies saw a big increase in voters when a majority of the others in the state saw a decline?

To be clear, this is not an insinuation or an allegation. But it is amply evident from the Election Commission’s own data that this requires further investigation and explanation. Ideally, the EC should investigate if there were any suspicious voter rolls or booth management activities that may have led to either voter suppression or bogus addition. This is of paramount importance to retain and regain fast-eroding trust in the integrity of India’s democratic process.

Praveen Chakravarty

Chairman, All India Professionals’ Congress and Data Analytics of the Congress

(Views are personal)

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