By using everything from face-recognition software to satellite mapping, Manipur shows the way in using technology to battle electoral fraud.
The 21,000-odd people who got themselves enrolled in multiple electoral rolls in Manipur had definitely not taken into account the power of Google Picasa. This is the open source software that sarkari staff, in a rare display of tech-savviness , have been using to detect fake voters over the last few months. In fact, the use of Picasa's face-recognition feature may help Manipur become the only state in the country to have a 100% correct electoral roll before the Lok Sabha polls next year.
Manipur's lead is being followed by neighbouring Nagaland and distant Jammu & Kashmir. The Election Commission of India (ECI), too, has decided to develop its own face-recognition software to detect and delete anomalies in electoral rolls across the country.
The use of technology started with state Assembly elections exactly a year ago. The state's joint chief electoral officer Naorem Praveen Singh said it was decided to take individual photographs of all voters when they came to cast their votes so that later these could be matched with the electoral rolls. The third polling officer in each booth was given a Lemon D226 mobile phone. "With our limited resources, we could not afford digital cameras. This particular model was chosen because it comes cheap at about Rs 1,200 a set, and the batteries last for 72 hours in switch-on mode. This was a crucial factor since many polling stations were located in areas without electricity," said Singh. On polling day, of the nearly 13.9 lakh voters who cast their votes, photos of more than 12.03 lakh (over 85%) were taken. Once the polling personnel returned to their respective district headquarters, the images from their mobile phones were downloaded, polling station-wise , in separate folders.
"We then started the process of matching the photos of the voters who cast their votes with the photos that appeared on the electoral rolls. But this was too cumbersome a process and was taking ages. After a few months, our staff in the technical wing came up with the idea of using Google Picasa as a face-recognition software. So we downloaded this free software and even customised it before starting the process of matching the photos of the voters with those appearing on the rolls from September last year. Over the past four months, 21,000 people whose names appeared in more than one electoral roll of a polling station were detected and their names struck off the rolls," said an officer of the state election department's technical wing.
Singh is sure that the state's electoral rolls will be 100% error free by the time the Lok Sabha polls come around. "There won't be a single duplicate or bogus voter by next year," he said. As for the 3.56 lakh-odd voters who did not exercise their franchise in last year's Assembly polls, they're all being tracked down and their photos are being taken once again. As per census figures, the female to male ratio in Manipur is 987:1000 but according to the last year's rolls, it stood at 1043:1000, thus indicating the presence of a large number of bogus women voters in the rolls. The ongoing correction of the rolls has brought down this ratio to 1029:1000 at present and the election department is determined to bring it down to the actual census ratio.
Similarly, the elector to population ratio which was abnormally high in last year's rolls at 82:100 has been brought down to 62:100.
But this isn't the only innovation undertaken by Manipur's election officers. Before the polls, all polling stations, polling areas and assembly constituencies were mapped extensively using Google Earth and with help from the Manipur Remote Sensing & Applications Center (MRSAC ). "Each polling station's coordinates , road connectivity, proximity to police stations and security forces' posts and surrounding terrain were mapped and on that basis, we deployed security forces to the polling stations. This precluded militant attacks on polling stations that used to be a regular feature in the past," said Singh. Also, the CEO's office has commissioned the MRSAC to extensively map the entire state so as to enumerate the exact number of households on the ground. Every household will be assigned individual numbers and enumerators on the ground will survey them to get the number of voters in each for comparison with the draft electoral rolls. "We'll be able to detect and delete bogus households from the rolls in this manner," said Singh.