Many complaints continue to appear from voters on their names missing from voter lists, as the first day of India’s seven-phase general election kicked off on Thursday, with constituencies across 20 states going to the polls. The missing voters – especially those in Hyderabad – recalled the assembly elections in Telangana last December, where lakhs of citizens were denied their right to vote as their names had been deleted from voter lists.

Missing voters: A regular occurrence

A month before the Telangana polls, Srinivas Kodali, a data scientist and researcher from Hyderabad, had filed a public interest litigation against the Election Commission of India (ECI), alleging that the names of 27 lakh voters in Telangana and 19 lakh in Andhra Pradesh were deleted using software and without following required procedure, under the National Electoral Roll Purification and Authentication Programme (NERPAP) in 2015.

Kodali told MediaNama on Friday it was “quite likely” that many names that were missing from voter lists on Thursday had vanished in similar ways, and blamed the mess on the ECI’s “increasing use of technology to weed out duplicate voters”. “We don’t know how many names were deleted when the EC started linking people’s voter IDs with Aadhaar in 2015. Large numbers were deleted in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, but other places may have been affected too,” he said. He said the ECI had not notified citizens in Telangana that their personal data was being used, as they were required to, and seem to have failed to do so prior to the general elections as well.

Names missing in Hyderabad and beyond

Among those whose names were missing from voter lists in Hyderabad on Thursday was Shobana Kamineni, vice-chairperson of Apollo hospitals. Having returned to India from a business trip the previous day just to vote, she said that her name was on the voters’ list even last week, when she had verified the list.

But the problem wasn’t restricted to Hyderabad. Meerut resident Braj Mohan had an even more bewildering experience. The list included his late father’s name, but his not his own, as reported by PTI. Mohan had filed an application with the election authorities asking them to remove the name of his father Murarilal, who died three years ago, from the voter list –instead, they removed his.

How did Telangana voters disappear from the rolls?

According to Kiran Chandra, general secretary of the Free Software Movement of India, State Resident Data Hubs (SRDHs) collate information from multiple departments of the state government to create a repository. The Telangana SRDH collected citizens’ personal data, including information such as caste and religion, and used Aadhaar to link the separate databases. The SRDH was in turn linked to UIDAI servers to enable biometric authentication.

Chandra and Kodali said the chief electoral officers of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh began linking Aadhaar data with people’s voter IDs under NERPAP in 2015. In August that year the Supreme Court had ordered that this process be stopped, but 30 lakh voters’ names had already been deleted by then. In February, The Wire reported that after months of delays, denials, and obfuscation, the ECI revealed in a RTI reply that then chief electoral officer Bhanwar Lal had admitted that door-to-door verification was not carried out before voters’ names were deleted.