Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking his third term in office in 2024 (Credit: By Prime Minister's Office/ GODL-India/

In most democratic countries, voters go to the polls on a single, predetermined day. However, that is not true in India. The world's largest democracy, with about 970 million registered voters, conducts its elections in seven stages over six weeks. Held every five years, the elections will occur from April 9, 2024, to June 1, 2024. The results will be announced on June 4, 2024.

What is at stake?

The general elections allow residents to select their representatives for the lower house of parliament. Known as the Lok Sabha, or House of the People, it comprises 545 members. The leader of the party that wins the most votes is named the country's prime minister for the next five years. Political parties can form a joint government if there is no clear winner.

Indian elections will start on April 9, 2024 (Credit: Election Committee of India/ CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Similar rules apply in other democratic countries. However, India's election process is more complex due to the large number of people standing for election. In 2019, there were over 8,000 candidates, representing 2,660 political parties.

The two largest parties are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by current prime minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking his third term, and the Indian National Congress, led by Mapanna Kharge. In most elections, neither party wins the 272 seats needed to form a single-party government. However, the BJP is expected to win by a landslide this year.

Why are the elections held over six weeks?

Indian elections are conducted in seven stages over six weeks (Credit: Election Committee of India/ CC-BY-SA-2.0)

A six-week-long election may sound long. But it is the only way poll workers can get to all the eligible voters. The exercise is even more complicated because the electoral rules stipulate that polling booths must be within 1.2 miles (2 km) of every voter. This year, organizers have set up over one million polling stations and hired 15 million people to help with the elections.

Why do the ballots have symbols?

India's voting ballots feature emoji-like symbols alongside each candidate's name. The drawings include everyday objects like a broom, belt, or flashlight. The icons were introduced at India's first election in 1951 to help the country's population, which was about 80 percent illiterate, recognize which candidate they were selecting.

"Symbols made it easier for people to associate [themselves] with political parties. They are like the logos of companies," said Kavita Karan, a professor at Southern Illinois University.

Indian ballots feature symbols to identify the political party affiliations of each candidate (Credit: NCERT /Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India/ CC-BY-SA-3.0)

The country's literacy rate has risen sharply since. But the drawings remain an essential part of the election process. They appear prominently in the political party's publicity materials.

Political parties, however, do not get to design their own symbols. Instead, they pick three symbols, in order of choice, from a general pool of images maintained by the Election Commission of India (ECI). Once a logo has been assigned, it cannot be given to anyone else. This is true even if the political party it represents no longer exists.

How much do the elections cost?

Elections in the world's largest democracy are expensive affairs. This year's polling exercise is expected to cost a record $14.4 billion, about twice the estimated $7.2 billion spent in 2019.

Indian elections are the world's largest and most expensive (Credit: Election Committee of India/ CC-BY-SA-2.0)

A large part of the funds will be spent on travel and advertisements. However, candidates will also try to lure voters, especially in rural areas, with delicious food, fireworks shows, and dance performances. Rural voters are also often bribed with cash, household items like refrigerators, and even livestock like goats!

India's secret ballot system makes it hard to gauge the effectiveness of the illegal gifts. However, over 90 percent of candidates have confessed to using them to stand out in the crowded field.