SVEEP - For Making Elections Inclusive
“We, the citizens of India, having abiding faith in democracy, hereby pledge to uphold the democratic traditions of our country and the dignity of free, fair and peaceful elections, and to vote in every election fearlessly and without being influenced by considerations of religion, race, caste, community, language or any inducement”.
- a pledge, which gained popularity among newly eligible voters in India during the past three years, changed the attitude of young India towards elections, thanks to SVEEP (Systematic Voter’s Education and Electoral Participation) initiatives by Election Commission of India (ECI).
Being a landmark initiative by ECI, SVEEP has stimulated every aspect of election processes to ensure enhanced voters’ participation in the polling. During the last three years, voter registration, especially among youth, has gone up from 10-15 percent to 30-35 percent and almost all the state assembly elections held since 2010, recorded high voter turnout with greater participation from youth and women.
Voter registration and electorate education are central to the election management process. However, qualitatively and quantitatively voter participation in India is still far from the ideal of participatory democracy. There is lot of gap between what the voters ‘should know’ and what they ‘actually know’ in important areas like registration, Elector Photo Identity Cards (EPIC)/ identity proofs, Polling Station location, use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), timings of the poll, do’s & don’ts with regard to Model Code of Conduct, use of money/ muscle and liquor power by candidates or their associates to influence vulnerable sections of electorate. More so, as has been observed, voter awareness does not always convert into voters actually casting their vote. To achieve the objectives of increasing voter awareness and voter turnout the election commission has taken a major step in the form of Systematic Voter’s Education and Electoral participation (SVEEP) programme to inform, educate, motivate and facilitate voters and in turn make Indian democracy more participative and meaningful.
With a sense of urgency to highlight the issue of low electoral awareness and low voter turnout issue, ECI chose the theme, “Greater Participation for a Stronger Democracy” for its Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2010. It is in same year the journey of the nation’s biggest voter participation programme - SVEEP - began with Bihar Assembly elections. In simple terms, SVEEP is a range of policy initiatives and activities intend to improve people’s participation in the electoral process. Since then it has been taking up activities to remove gaps in information, motivation and facilitation and in turn increase voter turnout in elections to Legislative Assemblies to many states. There were planned IEC (Information, Education and Communication) interventions in the Jharkhand elections of end-2009 and subsequently carried forward in the form of SVEEP (Systematic Voters’ Education and Electoral Participation) in Bihar Assembly elections of 2010 and assembly elections of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, West Bengal and UT of Puducherry in 2011. This continued for the 5 State elections of UP, Goa, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Manipur and again in the twin general elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat in 2012 and elections to NE states of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland in early 2013.
REVEALING THE OBSTACLES
Voters’ Behaviour Surveys were carried out as part of SVEEP. These surveys revealed the underlying reasons for under registration, problems in getting duplicate EPIC, correcting names on voter list and various information gaps and low voter turn-out. Moreover, the surveys also try to map the demographics of elector-segments with lower electoral participation.
It was observed that the youth and women constitute a major part of the people who do not cast their vote. In order to improve participation of all sections of electorate, ECI decided to bridge the gap in information and motivation, and also simultaneously made interventions to make the process of enrolment - easier and convenient and the voting experience - people friendly. ECI also creatively engaged with people to enthuse them to join the electoral process.
The Systematic Voter Education and Electoral Participation Wing formulates policies, lays down the framework, plans interventions and monitors implementation besides carrying out continuous discourse with voting publics, civil society groups and media. SVEEP comprise of a plethora of systematic interventions for Information, Motivation and Facilitation (IMF) measures to involve the people in the electoral process. They broadly include situation analysis, systematic planning and implementation of targeted interventions (on IMF model) based on the situation analysis, mid programme review and monitoring and end term review. The communication interventions include multi-media and inter-personal communication, physical events and innovative activities for mobilization of people/community and voter Facilitation. Realizing the intricacies in bringing out a behavioural change among people, ECI emphasized on social orientation and collaborative approach in the whole process of SVEEP.
Formulation of State and District level SVEEP plans
ECI also initiated some internal organizational changes in the state level and constituted state and district level core groups to coordinate and implement all SVEEP activities. The State Level Plans and District Level Plans are to be formulated for the whole year with intense sub plans for election period. The plans are to be in conformity with national framework, laid out by the Commission, but allowing for due flexibility and credibility at every level.
The Election Commission collaborated with educational institutions and youth organizations like NYKS, NSS, NCC to particularly tap the new voters in the age group of 18-19yrs, promote greater awareness amongst youth and students about electoral process and to seek their assistance in facilitating voter registration. It also collaborated with Central and State Government Departments like the departments of health, education, WCD, Cooperatives, Welfare etc., so that these departments can extend their existing infrastructure and manpower (field functionaries) for electoral education and outreach. Collaboration with Government and private media as well as Civil Society and credible NGOs for increasing people’s awareness regarding electoral participation has also helped in creating voter awareness.
In 2013 ECI signed a MoU with NLMA (National Literacy Mission Authority) after which electoral literacy has become a major component of the Sakshar Bharat Programme of the Government of India. ECI and UNDP also have an MoU in the field of Voter education. Campus Ambassadors have now been introduced (since December 2013) who would be a student in the campus and act as ambassador of the Commission and facilitate the SVEEP programme in the educational campuses. Now even private media houses and Corporates are joining in and extending support in the SVEEP programme of the ECI.
Facilitation as Part of Strategy of SVEEP
SVEEP initiated new measures relate to voter facilitation in areas of registration, issuing voter identity cards and suggests ways and means to make the election process voter friendly. These initiatives include Voters’ Helplines in all districts, searching name in the Voter list through internet and SMS, Voters’ Facilitation Booths, Ideal Polling booths, EVM familarisation camps, Voter Slip, Expanding the I-Card basket i.e., making other identity proofs (apart from EPIC) as a valid proof for voting.
National Voters’ Day
In order to reach out the mass, ECI initiated a practice to celebrate the National Voters’ Day on its foundation day, 25th January, in 2011. It is considered to be a significant step among the various SVEEP initiatives. It is being observed every year with the objective of increasing enrolment of voters to make universal adult suffrage a complete reality. With the aim to give the younger generation a sense of responsible citizenship and to encourage them to exercise their new franchise, ECI felicitates all the newly eligible registered voters in over 8 lakh polling station areas as part of the National Voters’ Day observance. They are handed over their Elector Photo Identity Cards (EPIC) and a badge with the slogan “Proud to be a Voter-Ready to Vote”. They also take an oath to strengthen democracy by taking part in the elections. Since 2011 the National Voters Day is being celebrated with great enthusiasm across the country along with a series of outreach measures like symposiums, cycle rally, human chain, folk arts programmes, mini-marathon, competitions and awareness seminars.
Identifying the ability of the popular icons to establish authentic connection with the masses, ECI appointed national and state icons from various fields to boost the awareness programme and motivate the voters. Former Indian President Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam, M S Dhoni, Saina Nehwal and M C Mary Kom are the national icons, besides many more celebrities are the state icons and involved in these SVEEP initiatives.
Table 1: Comparison of polling percentage of the State Assembly elections held after 2010 to the previous ones
Year of Election
Media and non-media units, folk cultural groups, cable networks, marathons, rallies, human chains, exhibition, hoardings, posters, pamphlets, leaflets, cinema slides, street plays, magic shows are utilized with good effect.
ECI has also been getting enthusiastic support of a range of governmental and non-governmental organizations, civil society and media in enlisting citizen’s participation in the electoral process. In some states it has trained a band of volunteers who took the message to the masses.
Information at Your Fingertips!
One of the greatest advancements of the modern day technology is the penetration of internet into our life. Keeping pace with changing time, ECI revived its website to provide all kind of information and services to citizens in a hassle free manner. Social media is being used at district and state level for enhancing voter awareness and increasing voter turnout increasing polling percentage. Most of the state chief electoral offices own face book pages for reaching out techno-savvy young voters. The facility for online registration of voters is the only system in India where one can get an identity card, i.e., Elector Photo Identity Cards (EPIC) without visiting a government office. The website also provides various other services like ‘changing the demographic details online’, and ‘tracking one’s application online’. The success of this online system is evident from the figures coming from various states; around 40 percent of new voter in Kerala and about 30 percent in Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have obtained the EPIC through this system.
SVEEP in a nutshell
The Way Forward
The objective of any voter education programme is to make relevant information available and accessible to public. If the campaign achieves universal coverage of the electorate it will be a great success for democracy. Under the banner of SVEEP, a series of outreach measures like marathons, rallies, processions, quiz competitions, film screening, declamation contests, street play, SMSes and helplines were conducted so far to promote voting. The gaps in the electoral process like youth disconnect, urban apathy and subdued ethical voting campaign are being filled by SVEEP activities while the areas like NRI registration, service voters low participation, migrant voters need more ECI interventions. ECI is constantly engaging to evolve programmes that can explore the in-depth correlation between the strength of an individual’s vote and their empowerment.
By PIB Election Cell team
For information of Past General Elections , Please visit PIB’s website www.pib.nic.in