The world’s biggest democracy just had an election. The world’s biggest democratic election It’s a marathon election A mammoth undertaking It’s the world’s biggest exercise in democracy In India, voters picked its central government for the next five years. An eighth of the world’s population was eligible to vote in this election.
This year, 2019, there are900 million eligible voters in India making this the largest Democratic exercise in the history of humanity. But this isn’t a video about Indian politics, because before India’s people can even cast their vote, the election needs to come to them Polling stations need to be set up wherever people live.
And in one of the largest and most populous countries in the world, that isn’t an easy task. India has to reach voters in coastal cities in the south, in the rural regions of the west, and jungles to the east and everywhere in between. And what’s more, they want every Indian citizen to be within 2 km of a voting station.
That’s only about 25 city blocks no matter where you are in the country. It’s an incredibly ambitious goal and yet, somehow they’re able to do it. This is the biggest election in the world and I wanted to know how does it work. Every election a team of government officials and security forces, get on a boat in the east of India to take off towards this island.
They travel about 100 km to get here, all to securely deliver these Electronic Voting Machines or EVMS, the instrument that logs India’s votes, the heart of this elaborate selection process. India has 2.3 million votings machines for its 900 million voters. So getting these machines close to every voter is a big logistical undertaking.
That’s why India doesn’t have a single Election Day, instead, it’s closer to an election month with multiple phases that last weeks. This process takes more than 11 million election officials and security forces, who move from polling station to polling station to polling station from densely populated cities to the rural areas where the majority of Indians live. Once on the island with the EVMs, officials pile on to bike carts and head towards the polling station.
Once they arrive, they begin setting everything up for the vote. On Election Day, voters line up, cast their vote, and get their fingers inked to prevent double voting. This is where the process ends for the voters, but for the election officials, this is just the beginning. Driving a boat out to a remote island is just one of many ways that officials reach every voter.
India’s vast and diverse terrain requires transportation methods of all kinds, like in the jungles of this northern state where elephants transport voting machines to reach a remote town or in the Himalayas where officials hike for hours to bring EVMSfor election day. Helicopters, trains, they even use camels. But what makes India’s elections so impressive isn’t just how they reach everyone in such a big country, that’s just half the battle.
It’s also the ways they try to include voters of all backgrounds into the process, a challenge that has been a part of India’s elections since the very beginning. India has 22 official languages and hundreds of dialects and when India became an independent nation, less than a quarter of the population could read and write.
The newly formed Election Commission of India created a range of symbols to correspond to each political party, like an elephant, a lotus, a hand, or even an alarm clock so that from the beginning all people regardless of literacy level and language could vote with confidence. Since 1947, the literacy rate has increased significantly, but it’s still only 75 percent, so these symbols are still useful to many when casting a vote.
But this is a massive sprawling operation and over the years it’s run into some pretty serious problems like allegations of election rigging and problems with a practice called booth capture, where gangs actually take over polling stations and tamper with the elections. It’s partly because of these problems that the Commission introduced these voting machines in the 1990s. It also increased security around the elections.
These efforts to include all voters and protect elections seem to be working. In 2019, India saw the highest voter turnout yet and for the first time, women voted just as much as men. India’s elections are only getting bigger and more complicated. India has one of the fastest-growing populations in the world. and in 2020, young people will make up more than a third of the country.
This is the biggest election in the world that takes millions of officials fanning out across a massive country to help hundreds of millions vote. Every part of this, the symbols, the elephants, the boats, the machines shows how hard it is to make sure that everyone in a country this large can participate and all without going more than two kilometers from home. If you want to learn more about the evolution of democracy in South Asia, you should check out the Bhutan episode of Asia’s Monarchies.
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