From Himalayas to Tropics, 605 Million Voters

No one understands the hardships of organizing the world's largest exercise in electoral democracy better than Arun Baroke.

Last Friday, Mr. Baroke, district commissioner in the small town of Bomdila in the Himalaya Mountains, sent a four-member team on a perilous trek to the remote village of Thaku so that its three registered voters could participate in the first phase of India's general election that took place Feb. 16.

If snows don't block the passes, the team - a presiding officer, a polling officer, a security guard, and an attendant to carry the ballot box up and down the slopes - expected to be back by Feb. 18.

"It's possible that the [voters] might not even know that an election is being held," Baroke says.

By any stretch of the imagination, India's 12th general election is a staggering logistical exercise. By the time polls close in the fourth round of voting Feb. 28 about 60 percent of India's 605,307,962 registered voters will have cast ballots for 4,700-odd candidates representing 662 registered parties.

With two months to prepare, India's Election Commission printed 4 million pounds of ballots and delivered them to 900,000 polling stations. Some 4.5 million officials are conducting the poll watched over by security forces of 1.6 million.

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