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Sansad TV: Perspective- Remote Voting

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Introduction:

India is the World’s largest democracy and the Constitution of India provides universal adult suffrage to its citizens irrespective of race, religion, gender, economic status. There has been a significant increase in voter registration over the years. However the stagnation of voter participation is a cause of concern. As per the available data approximately one third of the voters do not vote.This translates to a high figure of about 30 Crore eligible voters. According to ECI the inability to vote due to internal migration is one of the prominent reasons behind low voter turnout. The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Monday showcased the remote electronic voting machine prototype for migrant voters to representatives of political parties. This Multi-Constituency Remote Electronic Voting Machine (RVM) would enable migrant voters to vote from remote polling stations. ECI has also solicited written views of recognised political parties, on various related issues including changes required in legislation, administrative procedures, and voting method / RVM / technology for the domestic migrants. Meanwhile 16 opposition parties have said they will oppose the Election Commission’s multi-constituency remote electronic voting machine (RVM) for domestic migrants terming the proposal as very sketchy with huge political anomalies and problems such as no clarity on definition and number of domestic migrants.

Significance and benefits:

  • Migration based disenfranchisement is indeed not an option in the age of technological advancement. The voter turnout in General Elections 2019 was 67.4 % and the Election Commission of India is concerned about the issue of over 30 Crore electors not exercising their franchise and also differential voter turnout in various States/UTs.
  • It is understood that there are multifarious reasons for a voter not opting to register in a new place of residence, thus missing out on exercising the right to vote. Inability to vote due to internal migration (domestic migrants) is one of the prominent reasons to be addressed to improve voter turnout and ensure participative elections.
  • Although there is no central database available for migration within the country, the analysis of available data in public domain points to work, marriage and education related migration as important components of domestic migration.  Out-migration is predominant among the rural population in overall domestic migration. Approximately 85% of the internal migration is within the States.
  • This system enables the entitled service voters to cast their vote using an electronically received postal ballot from anywhere outside their constituency.
  • The voters who make such a choice will be entitled for Postal Ballot delivered through Electronic Media for a particular election.
  • The developed System is implemented inline with the existing Postal Ballot System. Postal Ballot will be transmitted through Electronic Means to the voters.
  • It enables the voters to cast their vote on an electronically received postal ballot from their preferred location, which is outside their originally assigned voting constituency.
  • This system would be an easier option of facilitating voting by the electors as the time constraint for dispatch of postal ballot has been addressed using this system.

Remote voting with the help of Block Chain Technology:

  • Remote voting, as an option, has gained some priority during the COVID-19 pandemicin order to address social distancing.
  • In the U.S., the mail-in ballot system, where registered voters received ballots and returned it via post or dropped it off at secure “drop boxes” or voting centers, was widely used, but this was entirely paper based.
  • The blockchain methodimplements an online public bulletin board that allows for a linear ordering of data to which a user can only further append data.
  • The board itself is public and available for anyone to read and verify. The technology has been put in use for cryptocurrencies the Bitcoin blockchain records a list of transactions that can be read to find out who owns which bitcoins without any centralised authority.
  • In the case of a blockchain-based voting system, the voting authority will have to authenticate this bulletin board in which users sign in using cryptographic signatures to register their votes in a ledger.
  • While this system, with its cryptographic features, promises data security and verifiability, the fact that it will depend upon a network and devices could introduce vulnerabilities that are present in any Internet-based system.

Way Forward- Vote from anywhere:

  • Director, IIT Madras, stressed on the need for the new remote voting systemto not deviate much from the present electoral process followed.
  • The system must have mechanisms to gain confidence of not only the voters, but booth agents of parties and independent candidates as voters would be allowed to vote from anywhere.
  • Stating that a remote voting system would be a major step forward in enabling franchise for migrant population, he pointed out how students of his institution often expressed dissatisfaction over their inability to vote as they were away from home.
  • While remote voting could help such people, including those outside the country, to vote from wherever they were, such a system must satisfy the highest standards of security and trustworthiness.
  • Highlighting how technology had been adopted in the election process, he pointed out how electoral rolls were in physical ledgers at the sub-district level just a decade ago.
  • Today, we have electoral rolls of 90 crore voters in a single portal and online services are provided for registration.
  • Arguing that evolving a technology might not be difficult, what was important was to ensure transparency and trustworthiness.
  • It is to improve trustworthinessin the electronic voting machines (EVMs) that we had to bring VVPAT (Voter-verified Paper Audit Trail). The IITs and other premier institutions working on remote voting.