Illiterate voters: Making their mark

SUVARNA PADEKAR cannot read. “It hurts,” she says, but she manages to get by as a cook in Mumbai. Each morning her employers let her know what food to prepare by leaving pictures of vegetables, rice and so on stuck to the fridge. Soon Mrs Padekar will pick her favourite from similar images—at the voting booth. Almost 815m people will be eligible to vote in India’s general elections, which start on April 7th (see article). About a quarter are illiterate and will identify their choices by party symbols such as a hand, lotus, or elephant.Illiterates are a big share of the electorate in several other countries going to the polls this year, including Afghanistan (on April 5th), Brazil, Iraq, Malawi and Mozambique. Compared with their compatriots who can read, they will be less likely to cast a vote at all, and more likely to spoil their vote if they do. Illiteracy rates are higher among marginalised ethnic minorities and the poor: 5-35% for Roma (gypsies) in European countries, for example. Far more…

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