The long-drawn polling process for Lok Sabha (LS) 2024 has been quite exasperating. However, this is becoming the norm, shows an analysis of polling data over the last three decades from the Election Commission of India (ECI).

The 2024 Lok Sabha polling process, spanning 44 days divided between 7 phases, makes it the second-longest in the history of LS polls.

Data shows that the first Lok Sabha election of independent India held in 1951-52 was the longest, lasting approximately 153 days. After this extensive period, the polling process was conducted over shorter durations in the subsequent eight LS elections.

However, since the 1990s, there has been an upward trend in the number of polling days for the Lok Sabha elections. In 1991, the Lok Sabha polling lasted for 27 days, and this duration slightly increased to 29 days for the 1999 Lok Sabha election. The 2014 Lok Sabha election saw a further increase, lasting for 31 days.

Hilal Ahmed, Associate Professor at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies-Lokniti said, “The rationale for the extension of polling is different for both the 1950s and the post-1990s. During the first general elections in 1952, there were several challenges, such as poorly demarcated constituencies, limited communication, and uncertainty about the election outcome, all of which required significant time for the Election Commission to complete the election,”

“Since the 1990s, the complexities of demography and administrative arrangements have significantly contributed to the extended duration of elections for both the state and the center,” Ahmed added.

The cost of conducting elections by the central government is also increasing significantly. According to Digital Sansad, the cost of conducting the 1951-52 LS election was ₹10 crore, while in the 2014 LS election, the cost surged to ₹3,870 crore.

State elections get shorter

In contrast to the Lok Sabha elections, the duration of the voting exercise in Vidhan Sabha elections has decreased over the last two decades.

Combined polling days for all Vidhan Sabha elections between 2019 and 2023 totalled 143 days. In comparison, the combined polling days for state elections held between 2014 and 2018 were 188 days.

The reduction in poll days between 2019 and 2023 compared to the previous period can be attributed to two significant factors. Firstly, elections in the state of Jammu and Kashmir were kept on hold after its special autonomy was abrogated in 2019. The Bihar election in 2020 occurred over a shorter duration than usual, leading to a decrease in the number of polling days due to the Covid-19 pandemic emergency.

According to data, the duration of state assembly elections in India has seen variations over the years. In Uttar Pradesh (UP), the 2007 State assembly election took 32 days to complete the polling process, which slightly decreased to 26 days in the 2022 election. In Jharkhand, the 2008 State assembly election required 21 days to complete the voting exercise, and this duration remained unchanged in the 2019 Jharkhand election, also lasting 21 days.

Between 2019 and 2023, the combined duration of elections was 143 days. Notably, seven states accounted for around 114 of these days, while in the remaining states, elections were conducted within a span of 1 to 5 days.

“The elections in India necessitate a significant police presence to prevent issues such as rising insurgency, vote-buying, regional criminal activities, and other illicit practices. This requires deploying a large number of security personnel. Logistical challenges arise when sending state police to different areas, and the deployment of various paramilitary forces further complicates the process,” explained Former Deputy Election Commissioner of India, Alok Shukla, who served from 2009 to 2014 in the ECI.

He said, “These forces need time to travel between areas, which is why some states in India have more phases in their elections than others.”

“State elections face their own challenges, as a significant portion of security forces is deployed during the general elections. Consequently, states often rely heavily on their own police forces.” he added.

The former Bharatiya Janata Party’s MP Uday Singh from Bihar’s Purnea constituency, who has recently been affiliated with Jan Suraaj said, “It is true that the diverse terrain and complex demography of different parts of India often necessitate polling in multiple phases, but this cannot be generalized for states like UP and Bihar. At times, this can indeed provide an unfair advantage to powerful parties. In today’s era, with advanced technology, unlike the days when polls were conducted with ballot boxes earlier, the need for so many phases in some regions is questionable.”

In the 2024 LS election, states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and others have been divided into more phases compared to the 2004 LS election. Opposition parties have criticised this approach, arguing that extending the election phases benefits the ruling party. They claim that the ruling party, having more resources, can use the extended time to campaign more effectively and gain voter traction. However, this assertion requires further research to be substantiated.

“There is a need to make elections less dependent on security forces and to reduce the number of phases. For instance, in countries like Australia or the United States, polling occurs without the heavy presence of security personnel. However, this is a subjective matter, and ultimately, the Election Commission decides how many phases an election should be conducted in each state,” Shukla further said.