Preparing To Vote for the First Time

I am old enough that people sneer at me when I say I will be voting for the first time in my life this year at the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. So much that they begin to criticize me for having not voted all these years.

If the Opposition parties had their way, they would even blame me and my ilk for letting the current government execute demonetization, implement the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and resurrect hardcore nationalism. But a lot of people blame a lot of things here in Indian politics, so it’s better if I, a novice, don’t dive deeper. Instead, let me share my strategy pointers as I do the spadework to vote for the elections scheduled 29 April 2019 here in my constituency.

first time voting in lok sabha 2019 india
I won’t lie, I’m excited to vote for the first time / © element5digital/unsplash

If you are a first-timer this might help. Don’t take my word for it, though. And apologies if the time for you to consider this is already up.

Things That You Could Do Before Voting

A few things to do as part of your preparation before you cast your vote:

  • Take a good look at the past three-four years of your life. Analyse what went wrong and what went right. How much of this right/wrong was directly or indirectly influenced by the local, state, and national governance? (Examples: difficulties finding employment, joy standing up for the national anthem before a movie at a theater, ease of starting a start-up, etc.) And then start your research on the candidates and their political parties
  • Go to your state CEO’s website and learn more about the voting process, why your vote matters, and of course, the candidates. Here’s a quick access to Maharashtra CEO’s website as well as online affidavits (PDF) of candidates representing your constituencies
  • Religiously go through the affidavits of those candidates that are likely to win or who have won in the past. Usually, this can be figured out by checking their respective parties and their performance. If it’s a big state/national name, pay more attention. (This is important because according to Mumbai Mirror columnist Ajit Ranade, about 20 per cent of the candidates have criminal cases against them.[1]There are roughly 4,400 candidates in the fray. On average, there are 14 choices for every Lok Sabha seat before the voters. Cumulatively, about 20% of the candidates have criminal cases against them. So, on average out of 14 candidates for every seat, about three or four have criminal cases. (20 April 2019) He further states that if you can’t find a clean candidate, the None of the Above (NOTA) option might come handy)
  • Go to all your favorite candidates’ party websites and read their campaign catalogs to see what they are promising. You don’t have to believe what they are promising; just see if they are sensitive enough with what is actually happening around and that they align with your personal vision about the country
  • Do an extensive Google search of your favorite candidates. (Example: Search for “Manoj Kotak” and see what results come up. Then customize the search and go back by three-four years. Lastly go back a little further and see what they have been quoted saying or what has made them newsworthy. Trust your instincts and aim for local news outlets to get a real vibe about the candidates. I am depending on Navi Mumbai TV (NMTV)
  • Don’t fool around asking for and testing other people’s political leanings
  • Avoid messages (videos and images too) related to party campaigns on WhatsApp and social media like the plague
  • Avoid television and/or loud news channels
  • Avoid newspaper columns by politicians
  • Compare the report cards (that you just generated by consuming information about them) of your favorite candidates objectively, without paying heed to what they have promised. Instead, look at what they have achieved so far.

Then, go and vote. I wouldn’t recommend aiming for the NOTA option because it is not yet powerful enough that the Election Commission of India (ECI) will quash the poll if it gets the highest number of votes.[2]Even if the number of electors opting for NOTA option is more than the number of votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes has to be declared elected. (Section 6.6.6, Electoral Statistics Pocket Book 2017, ECI)[3]…even if, in any extreme case, the number of votes against NOTA is more than the number of votes secured by the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes among the contesting candidates shall be declared to be elected… (ECI’s Provision for the NOTA option on the EVM/Ballot paper – Instructions, 11 October 2013)[4]The ECI while introducing NOTA indicated that although votes cast as NOTA are counted, they are invalid votes so they will not impact the result of the election process. Therefore, whether NOTA gets more or less votes, it is not taken into account for calculating the total valid votes. (The Economic Times, 12 April 2019) It will only mean that the winning candidate will win by a lower margin and overall votes. For a winner, the number of votes is as important as their kid’s mock board exam marks.

So, go out there and do what you think will “help” the country in the truest sense of that word. Ignore the jingoism, ignore the oratory, ignore the ridiculous schemes, ignore the promises. Look at the work and its effect on you and the things you care. And then go and vote. TN.

Disclaimer: It is not my intention to support a party or a candidate publicly. If any of the statements above hints at anything, it’s only your imagination at work. Please don’t contact me.

Update: Added footnotes to support the pointers about NOTA and candidates’ criminal records. (24 April 2019)

footnotes   [ + ]

1. There are roughly 4,400 candidates in the fray. On average, there are 14 choices for every Lok Sabha seat before the voters. Cumulatively, about 20% of the candidates have criminal cases against them. So, on average out of 14 candidates for every seat, about three or four have criminal cases. (20 April 2019)
2. Even if the number of electors opting for NOTA option is more than the number of votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes has to be declared elected. (Section 6.6.6, Electoral Statistics Pocket Book 2017, ECI)
3. …even if, in any extreme case, the number of votes against NOTA is more than the number of votes secured by the candidates, the candidate who secures the largest number of votes among the contesting candidates shall be declared to be elected… (ECI’s Provision for the NOTA option on the EVM/Ballot paper – Instructions, 11 October 2013)
4. The ECI while introducing NOTA indicated that although votes cast as NOTA are counted, they are invalid votes so they will not impact the result of the election process. Therefore, whether NOTA gets more or less votes, it is not taken into account for calculating the total valid votes. (The Economic Times, 12 April 2019)
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    Tejas Nair is a freelance writer based in Mumbai, India. He writes about cinema, literature, current affairs, culture, and society. He manages search-based digital campaigns for Publicis. more »