The midday sun was blazing when Biswajit Roy, a middle-aged Indian high-school teacher, gingerly pulled himself, and two voting machines, into a modified dugout canoe. His mission: Traverse crocodile-infested mangrove swamps, cross a stretch of open sea and then hike through a jungle to the remote village of Hanspuri so its 261 voters could cast ballots in India’s national elections. “When I got my orders, I was thunderstruck,” said Mr. Roy, 41 years old, an election officer in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. India is the world’s largest democracy, with 814.5 million registered voters. When election time rolls around, the government and its foot soldiers go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that citizens in this largely rural and infrastructure-challenged country can participate. Put another way, the national elections trigger the world’s biggest obstacle course for some Indian election officials.
Nearly six million poll workers, many of them teachers like Mr. Roy or other government employees, are protected by 11 million police and soldiers as they fan out across the country. Their routes take them through the soaring Himalayan mountains of Ladakh in the north and the tiny Lakshadweep islands in the Arabian Sea to the south.
Poll workers travel with camel caravans to reach settlements in the deserts of Rajasthan. In Meghalaya in the northeast, election officials recently had to contend with a herd of wild elephants that blocked the way to two polling stations. Eventually, forest rangers came to the rescue.
“While we are dealing with 814 million voters, there is equal emphasis on one vote,” said S.Y. Quraishi, India’s former chief election commissioner. Even in a place where there is a single voter, his or her ballot “cannot be ignored.”