Why India’s poll panel wanted to revert to paper ballots in this one constituency

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Over 15 years ago, India shifted from paper ballots to electronic voting machines (EVMs) for all national and regional elections. However, just a few weeks ahead of this year’s Lok Sabha polls, the election commission of India (ECI) came close to returning to paper and stamps in one small constituency.

The ECI was faced with a peculiar problem in Nizamabad in south India’s Telangana: A whopping 185 candidates filed nominations. Since an EVM can accommodate only 64 candidates, it was a tough call on how to carry out voting smoothly.

But the constituency will create history today (April 11) as a record 12 big-sized EVMs will be used in each of the 1,778 polling booths there.

These 12 EVMs will be laid out in an L-shaped format inside every polling station and each machine will have a maximum of 16 candidates listed.

The ECI had to buy an additional 26,820 jumbo EVMs to accommodate the 1.5 million voters in Nizamabad, which is among the 91 constituencies that go to poll in the first phase of the elections in India today.

Lok Sabha elections in India will be held over the next five weeks in seven phases.

Where did so many candidates come from?

Of the 185 contesting in Nizamabad, 178 are troubled farmers who cultivate turmeric and red jowar and have filed nominations as independents just to stage a protest.

The prices of turmeric and red jowar have been falling in the market and the previous governments have not been able to fix a minimum support price (MSP) for these commodities. This means these farms are struggling to make ends meet.

Earlier these farmers had approached the high court to postpone elections as some of them had not received an election symbol yet and did not have adequate time for campaigning. However, the court refused to intervene.

This isn’t the first time that distressed citizens have decided to contest elections. Nearly 500 candidates had contested from another constituency in Telangana in 1996 to highlight the acute drinking water crisis.

Read Quartz’s coverage of the 2019 Indian general election here.