Electing Government through Online Voting! Why not?

Statue of Unity. On 31 October 2018, India was amazed to know some great facts about the Statue of Unity; a special mention to its whopping total cost of Rs 3000 crores!!! It makes one wonder, however, that if the Government of India can think about achieving this feat, what stops them from funding online elections for 2019 (wishful thinking) or perhaps 2024? In order to understand the logic, please read on.

Manual Voting Issues

An Indian citizen of age 18 years or above is eligible to cast his/her vote. Now, a few points worth consideration:

 

 

(a) Graduation. Most people, on attaining 18 years of age, move out of their hometowns to get admissions in colleges. Due to this, most of them find it difficult to return to their hometowns and cast their vote in their designated electorate.

 

(b) Job Search. The issue mentioned in point (a) is also applicable for people who move out of their hometowns in search of jobs. Everyone settles in a city or town where they get better opportunities and lifestyle.

 

(c) Post-marital Shift. After marriage, a lot of girls shift to either their in-laws’ house or wherever the husband works. In both the cases, their voter registration card does not allow them to be eligible to vote in their new city.

 

(d) Old is not Gold. Senior citizens who are incapable of moving out of their house or find it difficult or inconvenient to physically travel distances find it very difficult to go vote and often dismiss it altogether. Also, some elderly people require help to cast their vote, which makes the whole process very complicated.

 

(e) Laborers. Daily wage labourers cannot afford to miss a single day of work or sustain a pay-cut because every day's wage ensures the availability of food that day. Such people give up their chance to cast a vote too.

 

(f) Contractual Issues. Contract workers in private firms who get their salary on a daily/hourly basis prefer to let go of their opportunity to choose their government over earning that day’s wage.

 

(g) Private Jobs. Private firms with headquarters in foreign countries often don't allow their offices to remain closed for one whole day for their staff to go vote.

 

(h) Official Nomads. In India, we have millions of government officials who keep shifting along with their entire families from one place to another on transfers throughout their service until they retire, making it extremely difficult for themselves or the members of their family to cast their vote.

 

(i) Hospital Blues. At any point of time, there are an uncountable number of patients in hospitals across the country, admitted for various ailments or surgeries. They find it almost impossible to move out and cast their vote.

 

(j) NRIs. Call it brain drain, but a good part of the country's talent has settled abroad and is not able to contribute to the elections for Lok Sabha. In case a person is an NRI and maintains his/her Indian citizenship, they should get the opportunity to cast their vote.

 

(k) Extra Day. In view of the declaration of a holiday on elections day, some people actually prefer to enjoy it as a holiday and neglect their responsibility to vote.

 

(l) Inertia. Last but not the least, something which many people will never confess, they see it as too much of a trouble and effort to go all the way to a voting booth and stand in line for hours for their turn to vote. Thanks to the Internet and the pace it grants to a modern lifestyle, people are actually losing their patience factor.

 

If we actually get down to the root of the problem, we will realize that there are a lot many other categories of people who, due to various reasons, find it extremely difficult or, in the worst case scenario, impossible to cast their vote on the D-day.

 

In the context of the factors mentioned above, it is fairly clear that the actual percentage of the nation’s population participating in elections is very low. In fact, it has never exceeded 70% in the history of our nation’s independence.

 

Lost Vote. To cater to the above-mentioned issues, Times of India started a campaign called ‘Lost Vote’ so as to give leverage to the idea of ‘Mobile Votes’ or votes by post. Will this process help? Yes. Definitely.

Logistical Requirements for Elections 

All of us are aware of the fact that the logistical aspect of conducting Lok Sabha elections is always strained due to various reasons, as mentioned below:-

 

(a) Polling Booths. Government structures like schools and old offices are prepared, often involving huge investments, so that the people can come and cast their vote there.

 

(b) Manpower. Elections are manpower-intense procedures which require the Election Commission staff and government officials to be deputed at booths across the country.

 

(c) Security. In view of all types of anti-social activities such as booth capturing, violence, and proxy voting, top-level tight security needs to be employed at the booths. During elections, voters becomes soldiers (ready to kill anyone found opposing their choice of party) and polling booths become local war fields. During their clashes, many precious lives are lost, both of the security personnel as well as of civilians. For what?

 

(d) Funds. The amount of money required to fund the services mentioned above is humongous and needs no further explanation.

 

(e) Clueless Selection. Most of the voters enter the polling booth feeling clueless, owing to the lack of important information regarding the standing candidates, like their agenda, promises made,  educational qualifications, criminal records, property held, etc. Like sheep, we borrow political opinion from our screaming TV sets, depending on media houses bribed heavily by the contesting parties.

 

Bribes before the D-day. During election campaigns, a lot of cash, booze, and promises start flowing from and to all possible directions. Where is the money for all this coming from? Political parties are funded by lobbyists and big business houses who don't mind investing millions during the election season in order to turn policies in their favour and recover profits manifold over the next few years. This cycle of spending millions for the election campaigns, followed by the recovery in billions following the victory of the political party of their choice keep going round and round, every five years.

 

A poor man, who's only concern is to manage three basic meals for his family, will not hesitate to take a bribe before the election day in return for casting his vote in favour of the bribing party. But a person who is well-off financially and socially will never be bought by petty bribes. At least he/she should identify intelligent politicians so that an intelligent government can be formed instead of criminals and defaulters.

Online Lok Sabha Elections

Why can’t we consider having an online voting mechanism for the Lok Sabha elections?

Information Technology. Due to the advancement of technology, social media, internet, and smartphones, the following issues merit our attention:-

 

(a) Banking on One’s Fingertips. All banking services have now shifted from the manual medium to online portals where one can access, transfer and spend their savings with the help of their smartphones or laptops/computers. These mobile apps and websites follow the best available data security measures to safeguard their patrons' hard earned money.

 

(b) Shopping. Online retail stores such as Amazon and Flipkart have experienced a major boom in the last decade and have developed mobile apps for ease of access. This facility is not only hardware and software intensive but labour intensive too with regard to their delivery sector. It can be very comfortably assumed that Amazon alone must be providing services to customers around the world, far more in number than the total population of India that is participating in the Lok Sabha elections.

 

(c) Ordering Food. Even the culinary industry finds itself reaping huge benefits of the world wide web as ordering food has become an online phenomena. The slightest nudge of hunger pangs now causes one’s fingers to rush to their smartphone and BOOM! Within a few minutes, someone a few kilometers away starts cooking for you and some other gets ready with his vehicle to deliver it to your doorstep.

 

(d) Stock Market. The bull and the bear[1]  have turned digital as all stock market dealings are now handled online, be it the Wall Street or the NSE/BSE.

 

(e) Online Tutorials. With online facilities such as Baiju and Toprr, a student only needs to think of a problem and the solution is available to him at his fingertips.

Expertise. India is the largest producer of engineers in the world. IITs produce thousands of brilliant engineers every year, most of whom, after the completion of their degree, shift abroad and work for foreign firms that happen to sell the technology developed by Indians for multifold costs and earn huge profits.

Aadhaar Card

Aadhaar is a 12 digit unique identification number that can be obtained by the residents of India, based on their biometric and geographic data. The data is collected by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), a statuary authority that was established in January 2009 by the then UPA II government of India, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Electronic and Information Technology, following the provisions of the Aadhaar (targeted delivery of financial and other subsidiaries, benefits, and services) Act 2016.

Aadhaar is the world's largest biometric ID system and happens to be ‘the most sophisticated ID programme in the world’. Considered the proof of residence and not a proof of citizenship, Aadhaar does not itself grant any rights to domicile in India.

Additional Points

(a) In view of the various subsidies offered with Aadhaar registration during its initial phase, a majority of Indians got their Aadhaar card made or are still getting it made.

 

(b) Aadhaar card is issued to the citizens of India post proper verification and registration, involving a retina and fingerprint scan. It is to be appreciated that retina and finger impressions are unique for every person. So, there is no chance of duplication. Therefore, it's almost impossible to produce a fake Aadhaar card or issues two Aadhaar numbers to the same person.

 

(c) The Aadhaar card is developed in the form of a database and is not connected to the internet or any form of social media.

 

(d) Aadhaar card is registered with a unique mobile number and email ID linked to one Aadhaar number.

 

(e) World class data security measures are being followed to safeguard the Aadhaar database.

(f) Even though the Government of India has already invested millions of rupees to develop this database, the Supreme Court has issued directives to all the national banks and telecom companies to stop forcing customers to produce their Aadhaar card for a new bank account or mobile sim, so it is not being optimally utilized as of now.

 

Aadhaar Shunted. In light of the Supreme Court ruling in September 2018, the validity of the Aadhaar system was upheld. In the September 2018 judgment, the Supreme Court nevertheless stipulated that the Aadhaar card is not mandatory for opening bank accounts, getting mobile sims, or school admissions. Some civil liberty groups such as the Citizens Forum for Civil Liberties and the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) have also opposed the project over privacy concerns. This ruling has actually put a brake on the procedure and success of Aadhaar registration.

Way Ahead

All elections should be conducted online with the help of a mobile app or website.

Logistics Targets In order to achieve this aim:

(a) Mobile Internet should be made available in every nook and corner of the country.

 

(b) UPI provisions should be made available for non-smartphone users to cast their vote just like UPI.

 

(c) A very robust Data and Network Security must be put in place to ensure zero hacking or manipulation of the votes cast.

 

(d) For the purpose of elections, Aadhaar card registration should be made mandatory for 100% of the population of India.

 

(e) Hardware/Software Wealth. A researched investment in hardware and software with the help of major mobile app and website players such as Facebook, Twitter, and national banks of the country can be used to generate online voting facilities, albeit under strict control of the government, for the purpose of LS elections.

 

(f) One Aadhaar, One Vote. Each individual may be allotted one account, with the Aadhaar number as the user ID and a password of the user’s choice, post the verification of their mobile number and email ID registered with the Aadhaar database. The punching of their voter ID and Aadhaar card details should be mandatory to complete their account registration.

 

(g) On the day of the election, online voting can happen during the window of the actual election hours.

 

(h) A person should be allowed to vote only once. Once his/her vote is cast through the online method, his/her account should be locked till the next elections come.

 

The above-mentioned method being quite controversial, we acknowledge that it’s not a foolproof method to conduct elections. In order to develop this concept further, we need to have a lot of brainstorming and planning sessions between:

 

(a) Government bodies

 

(b) IT sector experts who have experience working with global internet leaders such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc.

 

(c) UIDAI

 

(d) Agencies responsible for online data security

 

(e) Political parties, for they will surely have their own fears regarding this process

Advantages

(a) No requirement of polling booths, government officials, etc. anymore for conducting the Lok Sabha elections.

 

(b) No threat of booth-capturing as everything will be done online.

 

(c) No requirement of security forces to guard the polling booths. People should be able to caste their vote in the security and privacy of their homes.

 

(d) In the absence of manual polling, there will be no possibility of orchestrated riots or, by extension, any loss of lives.

 

(e) Less money laundering, since online voting will be the most secretive procedure to conduct elections.

 

(d) No requirement to declare election day as a holiday. Online voting can be done from anywhere, whichever city one is in, even from the hospital.

 

(e) Before casting his/her vote, a voter should be able to see the profile of all the candidates, their party manifestos, property holdings, educational background, crime sheets, etc. duly certified by the Election Commission of India. The commission will never allow candidates with murder or rape charges to appear on its official website or mobile app, naturally disqualifying unworthy candidates.

 

(d) Saving the tax-payers’ hard earned money. This money can better be utilized to improve civil facilities like road constructions, education for all, improving cleanliness, etc.

 

(e) The common man will become more powerful and will be able to exercise his voting right just by a flick of his fingertip (Rajnikant style!).

 

(f) We are sure that online voting will change the modus operandi followed during an election campaign.

Conclusion

India is the largest democracy in the world, and is the birthing ground of some of the best inventions and the most brilliant minds in the world. What stops us then from inventing and establishing a new procedure for elections online? It’s time we invent something revolutionary and shock the world.

 

The longer route is to wait for some IIT alumni to develop a similar facility for the Presidential Elections in the US scheduled for 2020, then purchase the service from them at a ridiculous cost.

When India develops the world's first online voting service, it will have to stand the test of reality to prove a success. If we plan to sell this technology to other countries then, we also stand the chance to earn a good amount of global currency.

 

We can create a big dent in the world's election procedures by developing the WORLD'S FIRST ONLINE VOTING FACILITY.

 

I hope the next generation will be able to select its government while munching popcorn on a couch!

 

It's very easy to fool an illiterate and poor man by buying his vote through various bribes. But it's impossible to fool a fingertip hovering right over a mobile screen or a computer keyboard to vote for the right candidate during all future Lok Sabha elections.

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