Appointing non-governmental or quasi-governmental personnel as booth-level officers (BLOs) for electoral-roll work has become a matter of concern for election authorities in Bengaluru. Officials have found that some BLOs had openly campaigned for a party or a candidate through their social media accounts during the 2018 Assembly elections. The issue is specific to Bengaluru as it needs a huge number of BLOs for electoral-roll work. Due to shortage of government school teachers and staff, who are usually deployed as BLOs, the election authority tends to deploy quasi or non-government officials, including private school teachers and NGO representatives, for the purpose.
BLOs are appointed based on their familiarity with local electors. They are usually voters in the same polling area. Their local knowledge is made use of in updating the electoral roll. With the grass-root connect, they help reach out to people and include their names as voters. Though BLOs are expected to be apolitical and not canvass for any party, there have been complaints about some using their position to influence voters. A senior officer who served during the Assembly election said he had come across cases of BLOs having party symbols and candidates’ pictures in their WhatsApp profile. “I had to call them personally and explain why, as BLOs, it is important to be apolitical and not influence voters. I warned them of action as per the Representation of the People Act if there is abuse of position,” the officer, who did not wish to be named, said.
Some officials say such behaviour is not a deliberate attempt to influence voters. “While there could be a few who promote a party or a candidate knowingly, many do it unaware of their role,” said one officer. While election authorities find it easy to communicate and train government staff and teachers, BLOs from non-government backgrounds are difficult to deal with. “It is a challenge to make them attend training programmes and understand rules and regulations. They often miss the training sessions as there is less accountability,” an electoral registration officer with the BBMP said.
The BBMP, meanwhile, has categorised BLOs as teaching and non-teaching staff and not as government and non-government BLOs. Of the 8,514 BLOs in Bengaluru, 5,498 are teachers. BBMP assistant commissioner (elections) DB Natesh said government staff and teachers were deployed on priority. “We are using the services of non-governmental officers and staff only in case of shortage of government staff,” he said. “We will take action if we ..