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Turnout claims are misleading

May 22, 2013

THE large number of people that came out to vote on May 11 is seen as a sign of democracy.

And it seems that this election witnessed a considerably higher voter turnout than past elections. The numbers, undoubtedly, are promising.

Take NA-1 Peshawar where PTI chief Imran Khan trounced ANP’s Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. The Election Commission claims that the turnout in this Peshawar constituency, a city that suffered a number of terrorist attacks in the recent past, was almost twice that of 2008.

According to the ECP website, the turnout in 2008 in NA-1 was 22.97 per cent, while on May 11 it was 46.18.

This means that the turnout increase from 2008 to 2013 is 100 per cent, which is huge.

However, a closer look at the figures shows that the number of registered votes in the constituency in 2008 was actually higher than in 2013. In 2008, 387,083 voters were registered here; by 2013, the Election Commission had revised this down to 320,578, a decrease of 17 per cent in the voters registered for this seat.

The revision occurred due to two reasons — one the Nadra/ECP effort to remove ‘fake votes’ that had entered the rolls prior to the 2008 elections and the addition of new voters who became eligible to vote after the 2008 elections.

However, this exercise means that NA-1 ended up with a lower number of registered voters in 2013 than in 2008. As a result, it is not possible to compare the turnout rate of 2008 with that of 2013.

This is why the claims of the ECP as well as others about a higher voter turnout are misleading at the very least.

Take NA-23, Kohistan. Here the ECP claims that the turnout increased from 17.77 per cent to 40.24. But this too is misleading. In 2008, the number of registered voters here was 317,734, but in 2013, it had come down to 127,028, resulting in a 60 per cent decrease from 2008.

How can the increased turnout of a voter list that is less than half of what it was in 2008 clearly depict the increase in number of votes polled in 2013?

At the same time it is next to impossible to calculate the accurate turnout figures now that the numbers of registered voters have been rectified.

This cannot be done because neither Nadra nor ECP have made public the figures removed and/or added to the electoral rolls. The lack of information on how many votes were fake (and were removed) and how many were new (and were added) between 2008 and 2013 means that the new registered voters numbers on their own can be of no help.

The only way to get some sense of the change in the voter turnout from 2008 to 2013 is to compare the actual number of voters that polled in 2008 and then in 2013 in each of the 272 constituencies.

In this way, it is possible to relate the exact increase in the number of people who turned out to vote.

However, this method assumes that all polled votes in the 2008 elections were genuine, which is also a faulty assumption — if there were fake votes present, chances are some of them would have been polled.

Nonetheless, this method will be a far better indicator of the number of people who voted.

Hence, for the NA-1 case, the increase in the votes polled is 66.5 per cent and NA-23 witnessed a 9.5 per cent decrease in the number of votes polled.

As the table shows, these discrepancies are present in a number of constituencies.

However, this can be rectified if the ECP releases the details of the votes removed from each constituency since the 2008 elections and the ones it added. It should also provide details on how many of the removed votes were duplicate and how many bogus.

This will allow analysts to more accurately determine the polling percentage in 2008 and may make it easier for them to analyse the 2013 results.