How to Get 815 Million People to Vote in One Election

Since India’s voting population is almost four times that of the United States, it takes nine separate days of voting at nearly 1 million voting stations.

April 8, 2014, 9:15 a.m.

This week, In­dia kicks off the largest elec­tion in world his­tory, with a re­cord 815 mil­lion people eli­gible to vote.

But how can such a massive op­er­a­tion in the di­verse, South Asi­an coun­try run smoothly enough to be one of the most peace­ful demo­crat­ic pro­cesses in the re­gion?

The an­swer is simple: time. Since there are so many voters in so many jur­is­dic­tions, some­times in re­mote loc­a­tions, In­dia al­lots nine sep­ar­ate days of vot­ing spread between April 7 and May 12 to ac­count for lo­gist­ic­al and se­cur­ity con­cerns. Some re­gions just need one day for vot­ing. Oth­ers need five days or more.

Voters in In­dia elect 543 mem­bers to its lower house, called Lok Sabha, every five years. Since In­dia uses a par­lia­ment­ary sys­tem, a party need a 272-seat ma­jor­ity to elect its prime min­is­ter.

The coun­try is plagued by polit­ic­al cor­rup­tion, but that doesn’t trickle down to elec­tions. The Eco­nom­ist ex­plains that pub­lic of­fi­cials take elec­tions ser­i­ously. They are good with “nar­rowly fo­cused tasks of lim­ited dur­a­tion,” they re­spond well to pub­lic scru­tiny, and the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion is in­de­pend­ent, pre­vent­ing bribes.

The view from a polling station in Koliabor, in the Assam state on Monday. National Journal
Narendra Modi, pictured here, is the leader of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Voters, upset with corruption in the current government, are expected to elect the BJP. The party's symbol is the lotus, which will be featured on the Electronic Voting Machines for illiterate voters. National Journal

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