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What is Booth Capturing?

Booth capturing occurs when members of a certain political party keep booths occupied so votes for the opposing party are kept lower.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 March 2014
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Booth capturing is a type of voter fraud that is most common in countries like India and Sri Lanka. It’s a very obvious form of tampering with the results of an election, because it is extremely clear that it is occurring. Past incidents of it have resulted in violent fights breaking out at polling centers, especially if two rival candidates or their supporters show up at the same polling place. Booth capturing tends not to occur in the US since people running polls certainly know what to look for to prevent such an occurrence.

Basic booth capturing works in the following way: At a polling center, members of a certain political party will “capture” a booth, by filling it with a stream of party loyalists. Typically these loyalists are not legally registered to vote at that particular booth, and may vote several times for their party member. By keeping the booth occupied, votes for an opposing party are kept lower, and people who have the legitimate right to vote may not be able to wait for an extended time to cast their vote, or they may be so intimidated by fierce seeming mobs capturing a booth that they simply don’t vote.

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The practice of booth capturing began to be widespread in India during the 1970s and 1980s. At first it tended to occur in northern parts of India, and then spread to other parts of the country. By 1989, the Indian government, sickened by the increasing rate of suppression tactics, passed laws that made booth capturing a criminal offense. In addition, the government created laws that allow the government to not count polling stations where booth capturing occurred, thus rendering the practice much less effective.

Yet the practice still continues to a degree, even with the development of Electronic Voting Machines. These can be shut down by people working at a voting location if they suspect booth capturing is occurring. The laws have certainly reduced incidence of this type of election fraud.

Other countries have also seen incidences of booth capturing. Sri Lanka, in a 1999 election, had independent reports of numerous fraudulent events that lead to the injuries of over 50 people. The trouble with the practice is that it can be incredibly intimidating. Political parties can hire people, “toughs,” ready to do violence to anyone who attempts to interfere with the practice. Capturing in some cases is not limited to a single booth, but to a whole polling station, making it virtually impossible for the opponent who has not adopted the same practice to win an election.

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