As the world’s largest democracy, the efforts India made to ensure each of its 800 million registered voters had a ballot are somewhere in between noteworthy and commendable. No matter the gap in the circumstances between voting in the U.S. and voting in India, the work in the Markha Valley described in a NYT article invites comparison with practices in the U.S. Regular civil servants had to leave their desk jobs to trek miles and miles in a region high on a Tibetan Plateau to establish polling places. In the district of Leh, costs of fuel and voting awareness campaigns alone came to $1665 per voter. Normally every 1000 voters required a polling booth, but in Leh district, only 4 of its 274 settlements met that requirement. In Mombai or Delhi the logistics were simple, but in most of India, as in the Leh district, the challenges abounded.
In the US, by contrast, we are embroiled in voters registration laws, measures that are likely to restrict voting. Our turnout is already low—that in India was the highest it has ever been, thought to be about 68%– In Los Angeles recently the mayor was elected with votes from 16% of registered voters. Over a billion dollars, if not more, is projected to be spent on media ads, many sponsored by special interest groups funded by individual or others with deep pockets and sometimes private agendas— entities whose task is rarely to ensure that people vote, but to sway voters to vote pro or con a given cause or candidate.
It’s doubtful we’ll be able to get back to basics, but surely examples such as the one in India can open dialogue about a better way for us to conduct elections.