The Election Commission (EC) has changed the criteria to identify critical polling booths — booths where voting patterns are prone to being influenced by illegal means. A booth is defined as critical if its maximum polling percentage is 75 per cent. But the EC has now raised the maximum polling percentage to 90 because it is expecting a record voter turnout of 70 per cent and higher for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
The second criterion for declaring a booth as critical — a single candidate securing more than 75% vote share at one booth — remains unchanged. But had the Commission chosen 75% as the benchmark for the first criterion, it would have been difficult to put in place a large security apparatus to oversee the resulting large number of critical polling booths. With 75 per cent maximum polling percentage as the benchmark, there were 3,770 critical polling stations in the state of Tamil Nadu alone during the 2009 general election.
"The Commission has done this keeping in mind that the poll percentage is expected to go appreciably higher this time and it will not be unusual to see several polling booths breaking the barrier of 75 per cent of the total electors present in the area," a senior Election Commission official said on condition of anonymity. "This is thanks to the Systematic Voter's Education and Electoral Participation (SVEEP) campaign that EC launched in 2010. Its success can be seen in every subsequent assembly election."
The Commission has concluded, after closely scrutinising several past elections, that money, muscle power and bogus voting have played a key role in booths that show unusually high voter turnout. A senior EC official said that breaching the 90 per cent mark in voting can be viewed as suspicious in terms of possible play of money and muscle power and requires tighter scrutiny as high voter turnout is not usual.
To prioritise the critical polling booths, Commission officials will list them in descending order of places where voters don't have elector's photo identity card (EPIC). Electoral officers and returning officers will also do a vulnerability mapping of hamlets, villages and electoral segments vulnerable to threat and intimidation to put them in the list of critical booths.
At the critical polling booths itself, the Commission plans to deploy sufficient numbers of central paramilitary personnel, expenditure observers and micro observers and install CCTV and videography equipment.
The commandant or deputy commandant in-charge of the paramilitary forces and expenditure observers will be given the list of critical polling booths in their areas to maintain a tight vigil and ensure free and fair polling.