The Case for E-voting
Indian elections have a major lacuna.
 
Usually, about 2/3rd of the eligible voters actually vote. If a party gets about 45% + of these votes, it wins a majority.  Therefore, votes from just 30% of the total electorate are enough to win an election. 
 
Is this really a 'popular' mandate?
 
Well... India follows the ‘first past the post’ system and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. This is a ‘given’.
 
A partial solution to this problem is to get more people to vote. With near 100% voter participation, the results of the elections could be more of a popular mandate.
 
Why do some people not vote?  
 
There can be multiple reasons – lethargy, disinterest, summer heat, old age, poor health…
 
(Incidentally, did you know that people aged above 80 and having disabilities, plus people aged above 85, are eligible for voting at home? I wonder how many voters actually use this facility.)
 
What if voting becomes so easy that people won’t really have a reason not to vote?
 
The solution: electronic voting (e-v).
 
Here is how it could work.
- You will enroll as an e-voter on the election commission (EC) website, via your phone.
 
- Robust security systems will verify your identity and your eligibility to vote.
 
- On voting day, you will login and cast your vote via a secure process (password, OTP, fingerprint, iris scan, etc).
 
- You will get a confirmation message—similar to VVPAT.  
 
Electronic voting is not new. Indian corporates have been using it for shareholder voting since 2012. Japan, Korea and Taiwan use e-voting for this purpose, too.
 
Estonia has used e-voting in 10 general elections, starting in 2005, running in parallel with physical ballots. Voters can choose e-voting or ballots. The share of e-voting has been steadily increasing, and exceeded 50% in the 2023 elections. 
 
We could adopt the same model—EVM or e-voting, your choice.  As people become more familiar, the adoption of e-voting should increase, as has happened in Estonia. 
 
E-voting has some obvious benefits:
- About a third of the people who can vote, do not do so. If one could vote from home, in just a few minutes, many more people would actually vote. This would bring us closer to the popular mandate that everyone claims to be seeking.
 
- Conducting elections is a herculean task. Over a million booths have to be staffed, security personnel are needed, EVMs have to be transported – the list is very long. If e-voting gains popularity, sizeable resources can be saved.
 
- The 2024 elections are estimated to cost Rs50,000 crore – a really big number. If a sizeable number of voters shift to e-voting, there will be some cost savings. 
 
- With fewer people at the poll booths, there will be less chance of voter intimidation, booth capturing and similar shenanigans.
 
Some questions arise:
- Is secure e-voting technically possible?
- Will people actually adopt it?
- Will there be fraud?
 
Technically speaking, I believe that our techies can build a robust e-voting system that is secure, hack-proof and impenetrable.  Besides, our techies have built websites that handle huge volumes, e.g., UPI manages 440mn (million) transactions daily.
 
Turning to security, it will be totally impractical for anyone to try to usurp an e-voting system at the level of individual voters. The reason is simple—to make a significant impact on the election results, a miscreant will have to achieve at least a 1% shift in the voting pattern. This requires that the phones of over 10mn voters have to be manipulated, which is impossible to do without a hue and cry being raised because every voter will get an immediate confirmation on his/her phone. 
 
At the macro level, there will be lots of doubts regarding the soundness of the system, its firewalls, and the way that the data is captured and stored. If one considers the doubts that are still being aired about EVMs, over two decades after their introduction, one can be certain that e-voting will be seriously questioned at every level, right up to the Supreme Court.
 
This is actually a good thing – a natural process that must be undergone to establish the credibility of the system. Discussions and arguments can bring about improvements in the robustness of the system, and increase its acceptability. Estonia has been going through this process for nearly two decades, and India will have to do so too.  
 
Regarding the adaptability of e-voting, consider these facts:
- 98.4% of our people have smartphones. 
- 65% of our people are below 35 years in age.
- Almost everyone is familiar with using a phone for all kinds of tasks.
 
I believe that our voters will take to e-voting wholeheartedly, just as they took to UPI, provided that they have confidence in the system.  
 
The biggest issue, to my mind, will be the question of trust, or the lack of it, in the integrity of the officials managing the e-voting system. Simply put – the Opposition parties will suspect that the party in power will pressurise these officials into tampering with the results, and skew them in its favour.
 
For e-voting to become a reality, these concerns will have to be addressed and everyone, courts included, will have to be convinced.
 
One thing is clear. Nothing will move fast in this ultra-sensitive matter. After two decades of EVMs, political parties are still demanding paper ballots. E-voting will be no different, and consensus will take time. Going forward, EC could do a few trial runs on smaller elections, giving voters the option of choosing e-voting or EVM. The results could be opened to scrutiny by all concerned, and discrepancies and faults discussed threadbare. Complete transparency will help build confidence.
 
Thereafter, poll booths could continue for quite a while, perhaps for a decade or more. If, eventually, people overwhelmingly opt for e-voting, it will become the norm.
 
Yes, we should bring in e-voting, but we have to go about it slowly and steadily and let the people decide.
 
Do you agree?
 
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world, playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)
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