Poll body seeks to seed electoral rolls with Aadhaar

With the Election Commission of India (ECI) deciding to link voter identity cards with Aadhaar numbers, it faces the challenge of how to go about the mammoth task.

The decision to ‘seed’ the country’s electoral rolls with Aadhaar was taken earlier this month. The intention is to clean up the registers, fraught with fakes, duplicates and erroneous entries.

The direct method of going door to door to match the voter identity cards of 840 million residents with their Aadhaar numbers could be too tedious and time consuming. After much deliberation, the ECI has decided on a national campaign, encouraging voters to “voluntarily” list their UID numbers through a web portal and SMS, and also alert authorities about multiple cards issued against their name. Once the numbers are fed, these will be matched with the database of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to authenticate the entries.

The commission hopes to complete the entire task of feeding the rolls with Aadhaar and seeding it with the electoral database by August 15 this year.

The country’s voter database is full of errors and duplicates, that can be detrimental to poll outcomes, said Praveen Chakravarty, founder trustee of IndiaSpend, and a former banker. “If this project gets executed, we will have the most efficient democracy in the world,” added Chakravarty, an electoral data scientist and who played a role in the early design of Aadhaar.

However, the timeline might be too ambitious, as a majority might not come forward to share their Aadhaar details. The ECI plan in such cases is to have block-level officers collect the information from door to door.

A massive print, television and digital campaign will be launched from next month to create awareness about the project, Umesh Sinha, deputy election commissioner, told Business Standard. A web portal has already been created, where voters can look up their names and feed their Aadhaar numbers. The process can also be completed through an SMS- based application, where residents can text their EPIC or voter ID number and Aadhaar, to a pre-defined number.

Authorised electoral registration officers will then be given access to UIDAI’s database, where they can view the details from both databases on ‘white listed’ computers on two windows, side by side. If the photograph and other details match, the number will be permanently fed into the roll; else, the record will be sent for re-verification. An alternative mechanism to authenticate the UID number will be through matching the biometrics through authentication devices. However, the second method will require the physical presence of the resident and might be used sparingly.

Sinha dismissed the privacy concerns about accessing the UIDAI database, saying only authorised officials will get access to it and they will have permission to only “view” the record. “Otherwise, how will we know who is who?” he questioned.

However, purifying of the rolls might be easier said than done, as ECI will not delete the names of residents whose Aadhaar number is not linked. Instead, a de-duplication software will scan the entire database and alert the resident in case of multiple entries. “If even after multiple appeals the person does not respond, legal action as defined by the law will be taken.”

Meanwhile, the Commission is creating a national duplicate register, to list all residents whose names appear more than once. The de-duplication software will match the photographs and other details to create a list.

With the scale of the task, Sinha admits the timeline could be a little “ambitious” but the hope is that the plan would work, more or less. So far, Aadhaar has issued about 790 million UID numbers in the country and hopes to cover the entire population by this June.