Hyderabad: Chief Electoral Officer Vikas Raj said the Election Commission has identified about 12 lakh similar photo entries (PES) in Telangana state and most of them will be removed shortly. This is in addition to the PSE of 10.5 lakh removed for various reasons. Now, 17-year-olds can apply to vote in advance until April 1.

In an exclusive interview with Deccan Chronicle, CEO Vikas Raj explained various issues. Extracts

What are the major voter education programs that have been picked up in the state?

We conducted many outreach programs during the Special Summary Review-2023. As part of this, Cabin Level Officers (BLOs) visited each household to register new voters and remove the names of those who had died or since migrated. About three lakh voters from the previous list had died. We focused on urban areas, where voter access to officials is quite low. Displaying details of BLOs in voting booths and their availability has worked well. Within the limits of the GHMC, we sent 10 lakh SMS alerts to voters based on their property tax details. The public announcement system on voter registration by garbage transport vehicles has greatly benefited the registration. This was a significant change, given that in the previous three years voter registration had dropped significantly due to Covid-19.

What has been the response in the state now that the ECI has allowed 17-year-olds to register as voters?

We received approximately 20,000 applications from 17-year-olds. We will be accepting advanced applications, including online, until April 1. Those who have reached the age of 18 by January 1 are eligible to submit early applications for registration. It has been extended until April 1.

Political parties allege that there is a conspiracy behind the suppression of votes in large numbers. How will you justify ECI’s position?

We conducted the registration of votes and the deletion in a transparent manner. Moreover, it was in the presence of party representatives that the BLOs enrolled new voters and suppressed the names of those who had died or had emigrated. There is no truth in the allegations. The names of around 10.5 lakh voters have been removed due to similar photos.

Voters have been unable to download their electoral photo ID card (EPIC) for several months. When will this e-EPIC installation be restored?

ECI has banned the download of e-EPICs for the past few months. Instead, highly secure photo ID cards will soon be issued. In the last month, we have distributed 14 lakh EPIC. If voters had lost their cards or if they were damaged, they can be replaced with new cards.

How many complaints have you handled in recent months?

From April 1, 2022 to January 20, we received 7,200 complaints about various issues. Of these, 6,772 have been resolved and 428 are in progress. On average, we receive about 100 complaints per month.

Who can people complain to about issues related to voting and elections?

People can dial the toll-free number 1950 for voting-related grievances. The NGRS portal is also available for the convenience of voters. People can also register their complaints through letters and emails.

What does the EC expect from voters to ensure the smooth running of the elections?

Voters must link their Aadhar cards to voter photo ID cards. Migration, job vacancies and other issues forced people to register in two constituencies. Some have multiple photo ID cards. All these problems must be solved with the cooperation of the population.

The TS Voting Preview

Total number of voters in Telangana State

Male voters 1,50,48,250

Female 1,49,24,718

Third sex 1,951

NRI voters 2,740

Electoral Commission green number 1950

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