90% of people who did not vote in 2014 actually could not

An overwhelming majority of people who did not vote in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections would have liked to do so but couldn't, an online survey by the Times of India has revealed. This highlights the importance of doing everything we can to ensure every Indian who wants to vote is able to do so and that there are no lost votes.

The online poll got responses from close to 32,000 people aged 18 and upwards. A little over half of these respondents (see graphic) had voted in the 2014 elections. Of those who hadn't and were eligible to (over 18 years of age at the time), nearly 90% did not because they could not.

The reasons were varied. Some were out of the town in which their vote is registered on polling day, some were abroad studying, many had tried several times to get a voter ID card made but without success and some were simply ill or travelling on work on that particular day. Irrespective of the specific reason in each case, what was clear was that these were people who wanted to vote but their votes had been lost by our democracy. This category was highest in the 31 to 50 age group, but in no age group was it less than about three-fourths of all those who had not voted.

In sharp contrast, just 2% of those who had not voted said they were not interested in voting - largely out of disgust for politicians as a class or because they saw none of the candidates as worthy of being elected. This statistic raises questions about the widely held view that urban middle class Indians (who would obviously form the bulk of such an online survey) are not interested in voting.

The survey also asked respondents for their opinion on what could be the best way of ensuring everybody can vote without undue problems. The solution that most people favoured was creating voting centres along the lines of online exam centres where people could go and vote for any constituency they were registered in. Understandably, the support for this idea was highest in the younger age groups. The next most popular solution was voting through postal ballot, along the lines of what is now available for those in the armed forces. Proxy voting was another solution supported by a large chunk, while online voting or voting through mobile phones was a fourth option.

Many of the respondents also pointed out that the process of getting voter ID cards was extremely cumbersome and that voting itself often involves standing for hours in long queues. What is clear from this is that making procedures simpler would by itself significantly lower the number of lost votes. With 280 million of those registered to vote in 2014 not having voted, any move that helps to bring that number down is a step forward towards enriching our democracy. But enabling remote voting would be particularly helpful because it would also mean the end of long queues, enthusing many more to cast their vote.