Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Is Apathy to Blame for Low Turnout? Experts, Activists Weigh In

In the 2024 general elections, nearly one-third of constituencies saw a decline in total voters compared to 2019. This unusual drop, mainly in six states, suggests reduced enthusiasm of voters in the mammoth polling process.
Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Is Apathy to Blame for Low Turnout? Experts, Activists Weigh In
The Indian Express (Representational Image)

New Delhi: The national capital of Delhi went to polls on May 25 and registered 56 percent turnout — a significant drop from 60.6 percent in 2019 and 65.1 percent in 2014. Contrary to the expectations of an improved voters' participation in the intense electoral battle, the decline in the number of electorates, who excercised their right to franchise, suggested a lack of enthusiasm among citizens.

Northeast Delhi parliamentary constituency, which has a razor sharp contest between BJP's sitting MP Manoj Tiwari and Congress' Kanhaiya Kumar, recorded the highest voting percentage (approximately 60.8 percent).

Conversely, the New Delhi constituency, home to many politicians and bureaucrats, saw the lowest turnout at 52 percent. Here, BJP's Bansuri Swaraj, daughter of late Sushma Swaraj, faced off against ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA Somnath Bharti.

The voting percentage of other parliamentary segments of the city are as follows: West Delhi (57.8 percent), Chandni Chowk (58.1 percent), East Delhi (54.8 percent), South Delhi (53.9 percent) and Northwest Delhi (53.8 percent).

The same was observed during the beginning of the election in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

During the first phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha Elections on April 19, three constituencies in the state's capital of Chennai recorded lower turnouts compared to the previous three general elections.

According to the data released by the Election Commission, the overall turnout for the three parliamentary constituencies in Chennai was 55.94 percent.

Chennai Central had the lowest voter turnout at 53.91 percent, down from 58.75 percent in 2019. Among the three constituencies, Chennai North had the highest voter turnout at 60.11 percent. Chennai South recorded a turnout of 54.17 percent, with 10,96,026 votes cast out of the 20,23,133 registered voters.

In any country, the total number of people who vote in an election is expected to increase over a five-year election cycle. This expectation is based on the growing population and the consistent influx of citizens reaching the voting age of 18 each year.

Unless there has been a significant demographic disaster resulting in increased deaths or mass emigration, the number of voters should increase. While voter turnout percentages can fluctuate between elections, the absolute number of voters usually rises between two five-year election cycles in India.

However, in the 2024 general elections, an intriguing anomaly has emerged: in nearly one-third of all constituencies, the total absolute number of voters has declined compared to the 2019 election.

An analysis by The Hindu of 427 constituencies up to fifth phase reveals that in 115 constituencies (27%), fewer people voted than in 2019. This is almost unprecedented in India's electoral history, where it is rare for so many constituencies to experience a decline in total voters from one election to the next.

It is crucial to understand that these figures refer to the absolute number of voters, not voter turnout percentages. Voter turnout percentage is an insufficient measure for comparison across elections because it depends on the total number of electors on the electoral rolls.

This number can vary widely from election to election due to the registration of new voters and the removal of deceased or emigrated voters, processes which depend on the thoroughness of electoral roll cleaning by the Election Commission.

Therefore, the more meaningful and intuitive measure for comparison is the change in the total number of people who actually voted across elections.

By fifth phase, over 505 million people voted compared to 485 million in 2019, representing an increase of just 4%. In contrast, the 2019 elections saw a 12% increase in total voters compared to 2014 in the same constituencies.

This indicates a significant decline in the growth of total voters in the current election compared to previous norms.

More baffling is that in 115 constituencies, the total number of voters declined from 2019 — a rare occurrence in a growing country like India. To put this in context, none of these constituencies experienced a decline in total voters in 2014, and only 19 did in 2019.

The question then arises: how is it possible that so many constituencies saw such a dramatic drop in total voters?

Excluding small states and union territories that might skew the analysis, the finding remains consistent: in one-third of all constituencies, total voters declined compared to 2019.

Most of these constituencies with a decline in total voters are in six states: Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. Changes in the total voters in a constituency from the previous election are influenced by three primary factors: the number of new eligible electors, the number of electors who have emigrated and the percentage of electors who vote.

It is unlikely that there was an inexplicable drop in the number of eligible electors as this typically follows broad population trends. Nor is it likely that there was a sudden and alarming increase in emigration from these 115 constituencies due to economic or other reasons. None of these constituencies saw a decline in total voters in either the 2014 or 2019 elections.

Therefore, the only logical explanation is a significant decline in voter turnout, leading to a reduction in total absolute voters compared to 2019.

In the context of India, it is rare for constituencies to see a decline in the absolute number of voters between two five-year election cycles.

However, nearly one-third of all constituencies experienced such a decline in 2024 compared to 2019.

Various social activists highlighted multiple reasons that can be behind the low turnout.

“There is a voter apathy due to disillusionment with politics,” noted author and activist Tushar Gandhi told The Mooknayak.

He believes that the apparent "compromise" of the entire democratic system is causing people to lose interest. Many feel that participative democracy has eroded and that their vote no longer makes a difference. This has led to a sense of alienation from the electoral process.

“This time around, the climatic conditions have also added to the complexities,” he further added.

The soaring temperatures across the nation might also contribute to the low voter turnout. In Delhi, for instance, polling began briskly in the morning with queues forming at several stations before the sun intensified. However, as the day progressed into the afternoon, the crowd diminished. Queues began to re-appear in the evening as the 6 pm closing time approached.

Aishwarya from the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Karnataka, believes that the government's proactive efforts to encourage people to vote have been minimal this time.

“We have seen civil societies take initiative more than the government,” she said, adding that the "ECI has also refused to give out the actual voter turnout in numbers, which is violative of our fundamental right to information. But now, they are saying that there is no legal mandate for the commission to share the information".

ECI Finally Releases Absolute Voter Turnout

Aishwarya's discussion is part of the "ECI Grow a Spine or Resign" movement, where social organizations and activists from across the country have sent letters to the poll watchdog, advocating for greater transparency, including the release of absolute numbers.

The Supreme Court declined to intervene in the ongoing election process and adjourned the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on May 24. The application sought directions to the Election Commission to publish booth-wise absolute numbers of voter turnout and upload Form 17C records of votes polled on its website.

The decision was made by a vacation bench, comprising justices Dipankar Datta and Satish Chandra Sharma.

The day after, the poll body released the absolute number of voters for the initial five phases of the Lok Sabha elections. In an official statement, the poll panel noted "the emergence of false narratives and deliberate attempts to disrupt the electoral process".

"The Election Commission feels significantly fortified by the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s remarks and ruling regarding the release of turnout data. This lays stress on the Commission's heightened duty to uphold the principles of electoral democracy with unwavering determination," stated the poll panel.

It further emphasized, "The process of collecting and storing votes polled is stringent, transparent, and inclusive."

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