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Remote Voting Facility in India – Explained, Pointwise

Introduction

The Chief Election Commissioner has proposed to include the ‘remote voting facility’ in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections. This will enable voters to cast votes from remote locations and improve voter turnout. However, the success of this method depends on various other steps including the creation of enabling infrastructure for remote voting. In this article, we will explain the remote voting facility and its challenges in India.

Current Scenario
  • Firstly, the first pilot project of the remote voting facility is likely to start in the next 2-3 months.
  • Then, a team of experts from IIT Madras and other IITs is working on drafting the modalities of ‘remote voting’ or ‘blockchain’ voting system in full swing.
  • Other projects in pipeline:
    • Introduction of E-Voting for NRI(Non-Resident Indians) in the next 6-12 months.
    • Linking of Aadhaar card with EPIC (Electoral Photo Identity Card). This will improve voter identification at polling stations.
About Remote Voting Facility (RVF):
  • It will enable a voter to cast his or her vote from any polling station in the country. 
  • It will remove the compulsion on voting only at the domicile polling station. (As the voter is registered in his domicile).
  • The project is being developed by the IIT-Madras using blockchain technology.
Blockchain Technology:
  1. A blockchain is a distributed ledger of information which is replicated across various nodes on a “peer-to-peer” network (P2P Network)
  2. The data exists on multiple computers at the same time. It constantly grows as new sets of recordings or blocks get added to it in a decentralization manner.
  3. All transactions that occur on a standard Blockchain are verified and signed with cryptography to ensure security and anonymity.
    • Cryptography: It is the process of converting ordinary plain text into unintelligible text and vice-versa. 
    • The intended person can encrypt the coded message and use them.
  4. The ledger can record many transactions such as monetary transactions, property transfer, and even ballot storage.
Probable working of Remote Voting Facility

Blockchain is a decentralized, transparent, and an encrypted data technology. This could potentially help to minimize election tampering. Further, the Blockchain can also maximize polling in elections. The probable implementation will include the following steps.

  1. In the first stage, the user’s voter identity will be verified and authorized through a multi-layered identification system. This system can have web cameras and biometric identification. This will prevent duplication.
  2. In the second stage, a blockchain-enabled personalized e-ballot paper will be generated. The citizens will use this paper to cast his/her vote.
  3. In the third stage, an encrypted blockchain hashtag (#) will be created. This hashtag will then be sent to all the people in the chain. So, the person cannot cheat his/her vote in other locations.
Significance of Remote Voting Facility (RVF)
  1. Firstly, Higher Voter Turnout:  The voter turn in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was 67.11% across 542 constituencies. The RVF can increase the voter turnout in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. 
  2. Secondly, Promote Inclusivity: Individuals who are ‘on the move’ like students, patients, migrant labourers, essential service providers, etc. will become part of the electoral process.
  3. Thirdly, Flexibility: RVF gives more flexibility to voters. An individual can cast his/her vote from multiple locations and not solely from one registered polling station.
  4. Fourthly, Greater Political Accountability: RVF will give a voice to unheard groups like migrant workers. The contesting candidates generally did not concern with them, as they will not vote in elections.
  5. Fifthly, Strengthens Representative Democracy: RVF will ensure more eligible voters cast their vote. Thus, it will help in fulfilling the ambition of the representative democracy. 
  6. And lastly, Fulfils Constitutional Mandate: Article 326 of the Indian Constitution has given voting rights to every individual above 18 years i.e. universal adult suffrage. The spirit of this article calls for ensuring universal voter turnout in elections and RVF can help us move closer towards this.
Challenges with Remote Voting Facility
  1. Cyber Threats: As RVF is based on blockchain, therefore it might be attacked by hackers which would distort the final result.
  2. Privacy Concern: The process involves saving a user’s biometrics and facial data. Any misuse of such by concerned authorities or hackers would undermine the right to privacy.
  3. Stakeholder’s Confidence: Nowadays, political parties and candidates are questioning the credibility of EVMs. Instilling trust over RVF will be a challenging task.
  4. Confidentiality of Voting: As the RVF facility will be availed in front of an authorized officer, the secrecy of the voting process might get jeopardized.
Suggestions to improve Remote Voting Facility
  1. The government has to do a wider consultation with all the concerned stakeholders before the rollout of RVF. This includes political parties and civil society groups (like the Association for Democratic reforms).
  2. In the pilot phase, the Parties and candidates should get timely notifications of RVF. By providing real-time information can strengthen trust in the electoral process.
  3. Also, The Election Commission should organise the RVF hackathons in order to build greater public confidence. So that the ‘didn’t want to vote’ category people also cast their vote with confidence.
  4. For ensuring a universal voter turnout, awareness generation should be done.
  5. Further, till the RVF develops, easing and enhancing the process of postal ballot is desired.
    • India used the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) in 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. The ETPBS helped the armed forces, central paramilitary forces and central government officers working in Indian missions abroad to cast their vote.
Conclusion

Technology has played a pivotal role in strengthening the electoral process of the world’s largest democracy. For example, the introduction of EVMs, VVPAT machines, C- Vigil App, etc. The launch of RVF will be a significant step. But the apparent challenges have to be resolved first. This will make Remote Voting a safe, secure, trustworthy, and transparent process.

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