Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT) attachments have become highly controversial; there are allegations of malfunctioning, hacking, mishandling, etc. Following headlines in print media explain the concerns expressed:
EVMs – Are they really tamper-proof? EVMs have been hacked and even if a voter presses any button, vote goes to a particular party? How can BJP get a thumping majority in UP Legislative Assembly Election 2017 where its base was not so good earlier? Election Commission introduces Voters Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) to ensure secrecy and transparency. Election Official transferred when during demonstration the EVM/VVPATs printed only BJPs sign in paper trails, so, VVPATs can also be engineered to favor one party. Opposition parties meet President and express concern about EVMs. Election Commission seeks approximately Rs 3174 crore for procuring VVPATs etc., for next elections. Even during 2009, Election Commission had expressed admitted concerns about the working of EVMs in a case filed before the Supreme Court.
Doubts are not unfounded:
The above headlines reveal that doubts expressed are not unfounded. In these days of high technology intervention in our daily life, like remote control activation of home appliances like owen, fans, geysers, lights to be switched on, etc., a little alteration in the software in the back end operation may make EVMs malfunction. Example, say after about 100 vote depressions that go to the correct party symbol, all depressions thereafter may be programmed to go to a particular party symbol and that party could get an unseen thumping majority. This did happen during demonstration of VVPAT and an Election Official had been transferred immediately.
Government of India and its constituent States have enabled citizens with identity proofs through cards, e.g., ration , BPL/APL, Aadhaar, voters ID card, Driving License, Employee, etc., etc. Intention of these cards is to identify a person that he is what he claims to be. During voting also Election Commission directs voters to carry any of the identified cards for purpose of voting. Of all these cards, Aadhaar has proved ubiquitous since it has been designed and developed through high end technological intervention and after due diligence and checks and balances, with concern for data security of citizens, transparency etc. Government of India is in the process of amending the Information Technology Act for educating the user departments about client data security. More than 130 million people have obtained Aadhaar cards on voluntary basis; accepted its linking with their bank accounts for obtaining benefits under various government social welfare schemes.
Therefore, it is time to innovate and think how we can do elections differently but within the rules, regulations and with minimum amendments to the Peoples Representation Act and other relevant acts and laws of the land .Time has come to implement a complete transparent and accountable technology oriented voting system in India that is doable, economical and sustainable clean democratic process.
Time to implement online voting
Here is a suggestion for enabling all registered voters to exercise their franchise from where they are by using information technology/internet enabled 3G/4G gadgets like desktops, laptops, smart phones etc., or internet browsing centers, kiosks, ATMs, Bank branches, Government offices or while on the move with the help of wi-fi or satellite based communication networks in urban/ rural areas. This system of voting will enable NRIs who are at present voting through postal ballet system since they also have the right to vote and also voters who are compelled to be away from their registered voting booths due to employment or transfer etc., to vote from wherever they are. This “Online Voting” is likely to boost percentage of voting and result in a realistic majority voters rule instead of the first past the post minority voters rule.
How online voting works
(1) Broad principles of Online Voting are based on our existing Aadhaar card and also like withdrawing money from ATMs through debit/credit cards that have protective IT enabled security firewalls.
(2) It is suggested that this “Online Voting” may be implemented on a trial basis alongside the present EVMs and VVPATs for comparing and contrasting whether to go back to ballot paper election or give up EVMs and VVPATS.
(3) Election Commission of India may examine this suggestion and if approved, send necessary proposals to Government of India to direct the UID (Mr.Nandan Nilekani, mentor of Aadhaar, to head this think tank) to create necessary software with security parameters like shell-level firewalls, public key and private keys, ID and password protected online voting system
after due diligence, checks and balances and accoding to the laws of the land under the Constitution, Peoples Representation Act etc.
(4) After trail runs and approval in Parliament, data relating to Voter ID cards may be linked to Bio-metric based Aadhaar cards that have been issued to more 90 per cent of Indians and it has become a highly reliable document to help establish ones identity.
(5) With this “Online Voting” system in place, a voter may exercise his franchise from anywhere and everywhere in the world by visiting the nearest internet browsing center, Government offices, ATMs, KIOSKs, scheduled bank and Co-operative Banks branches, local bodies offices, etc., where “Online Voting” softwares may be loaded for that day of voting and become automatically dormant after conclusion of voting hours.
(6) A registered voter may enter any of the above centers, produce necessary ID proof and Aadhaar card details, look into the eye socket attached to a system and / or give finger impressions as the case may be, get green signal to vote, look into the list of candidates of his constituency with their symbols that automatically appear on screen and either through touch screen or click of the mouse vote to the symbol of his choice.
(7) Immediately after a voter exercises his franchise, the voting software system will send an SMS to the registered mobile number of the voter that he has voted to a particular symbol in that particular constituency and this SMS is for record of the voter and is akin to messages a customer receives immediately after a banking transaction takes place.
(8) The touch screen or mouse clicks will automatically be transmitted to the centralized data collection centre at the Election Commission office and simultaneously exhibited on giant screens set up for information of people in a transparent and accountable manner. This way all votes will be accounted instantaneously.
(9) Simultaneously, it is also stored in assigned storage systems either in super computers or in cloud computing or in satellite storage system or in such other storage systems anywhere in the world.
(10) This meta data can be retrieved as and when required under orders of a judicial authority.
(a) Requires minimal human intervention, doable, economical, sustainable, transparent and accountable.
(b) Hacking will be next to impossible due to the speed with which data transfer takes place and enough firewalls protect any such transmission.
(c) Huge investments involved in procurement of gadgets like EVMs/VVPATs, storage, security related expenditures etc., transportation of men and machines to set up booths, risks involved, booth capturing or EVM capturing etc., can be avoided.
(d) Instantaneous results will be available to the entire nation.
(e) Data stored will be accurate and details thereof will be available for future references of all Government departments for planning projects etc.
(f) Voters can have the freedom to vote from where they are without the hassle of travelling to particular booths and NRIs, even beggars who possess Voter ID/ Aadhaar cards can vote.
(g) Duplicate voting or proxy voting will be completely eliminated.
(h) (h) This hassle-free “Online Voting – Vote from where you are” is expected to boost the percentage of voting and help in establishing majority voters rule in the greatest living democracy in the world India, with ‘swach matadaan’.
(- Vasanthkumar Mysoremath, social activist)