What is Booth Capturing?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

Booth capturing occurs when members of a certain political party keep booths occupied so votes for the opposing party are kept lower.
Booth capturing occurs when members of a certain political party keep booths occupied so votes for the opposing party are kept lower.

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.

Booth capturing is most common in countries such as India.
Booth capturing is most common in countries such as India.

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.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Actually saying that its is most common in India is racist because it is not happening anymore. In fact, it has almost never been experienced for a long time. It is not only India and Sri Lanka that has experienced booth capturing, so even if there have been more capturings there than any other place, it is not most common there.


We might not have booth capturing in the United States, but people have been influenced to vote one way or another over the years in various ways. Some tactics are subtle, while others are not.

For example, my grandfather was a state employee. Prior to elections, he was told to "vote right" or forget about having a job. The implication was that his private ballot wasn't so private and that his vote would be known by the party that was in power at the time.

Could a political party get access to how someone voted? Maybe and maybe not. However, the threat of losing a job is severe enough to make someone comply. The point, of course, is that booth capturing is obvious but threats such as the one my grandfather had to put up with are not.

There are other examples of voter intimidation. Things have gotten better over the years, but local election commissions should remain vigilant to make sure that the right to vote is protected.


Thankfully if is common to ban any campaigning, party activity or anything that could lead to booth capturing in the United States. I'm not sure booth capturing doesn't happen in the U.S. so much because poll workers know what to look for -- it seems laws have been put in place specifically for the purpose of preventing all such activities from interfering with a person's basic right to vote without being harassed or blocked.

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