Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Brian Min.

With six weeks of phased voting, 80% of potential voters are expected to cast ballots in India, making it the world’s largest election. Already marked by political posturing and violence, the elections also include the politics of light.

MinIndia2CPS researcher Brian Min developed an innovative way to track energy emissions. Min tracks images from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operational Linescan System (DMSP-OLS). In orbit since 1970, these satellites record high resolution images of light on Earth every night. Min uses these images to track energy consumption over time.

In a recent paper, Min applied this methodology to elections in India. Some of the country remains isolated from a consistent supply of electricity. Using data from 1992 to 2010, Min finds that otherwise dark villages are often illuminated during election cycles. When elections come around, politicians promise light and often deliver power leading up to votes. These areas are then returned to darkness as election promises literally fade from the spotlight.

It remains to be seen if the 2014 election will change power grids. Min will be ready to measure using the satellite images. Look out for future posts about Min’s state-of-the-art research based on the same satellite imaging in other areas.