E-voting in India

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    • Recently, Former Chief Election Commissioners (CEC) have raised a range of concerns, from maintaining the secrecy of ballots to bringing political parties on board, around the idea of online voting and remote voting.
      • The opinion comes at a time when Telangana SEC is set to carry out an e-voting experiment and the Election Commission of India, too, is exploring remote voting.

    What E-voting/Remote Voting?

    • It will allow electors to vote from faraway cities without going to the designated polling station of their constituencies.
    • The voters will have to reach a designated venue during a pre-decided period of time to be able to use this facility.
    • The IIT-M is developing a system for two-way remote voting in a controlled environment using blockchain technology.
    • It would entail voter identification and authorisation on the Electoral Registration Officer Network (ERO Net) using biometric data and web cameras for authentication, followed by a blockchain-based e-ballot generation, which would convert into a vote once the hash code would be generated on its execution. 
    • The encrypted remote votes cast would once again be validated at the pre-counting stage to ensure that they have neither been decrypted nor tampered with or replaced. 
    • International perspective:
      • Countries such as the United States, Argentina, Russia, Estonia, Thailand and South Korea in the past have utilised the blockchain methods for conducting voting processes for their citizens, with a fair share of positives and negatives deriving consequentially.
    • India’s position:
      • India has had a positive response towards exploring the implementation of blockchain networks across several sectors, including election systems.
      • The foremost example is that of the Telangana government, which aims at implementing an experimental run towards an e-voting idea. 
      • The ECI had used a one-way electronic system for service electors for the first time in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The postal ballots were transmitted electronically to the service electors, which led to an increased turnout of 60.14%.
      • In 2020, the Election Commission conducted several discussions and demonstrations with various state governments, policy think tanks, and private industry stakeholders to explore the idea of a nationwide remote blockchain election system. 
        • In February 2020, it had collaborated with the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M)
    • Significance 
    • Breaks the geographical barriers: The remote voting project aspires to enable voters residing in remote locations, away from their designated polling stations, to cast their ballot in a secured fashion.
      • In each election, thousands of voters have to forego their right to vote on account of a geographical barrier. 
    • More Flexible for voters: The individual can cast his/her vote from multiple locations and not solely from one registered polling station.
    • Inclusion of eligible voters and increase turnout in voting numbers: It will ensure more eligible voters cast their votes which will help in including more voters.
      • Article 326 provides – Elections to the House of the People and to the Legislative Assembly of every State shall be on the basis of adult suffrage.
      •  Every citizen of India not less than eighteen years of age on such date as may be fixed in that behalf by law and is not otherwise disqualified and shall be entitled to be registered as a voter at any such election. 
        • Remote Voting can help us move closer towards this.
    • It will be promoting security towards the recording of votes as opposed to physical tampering.
    • Efficiency in counting votes
      • It will provide enhanced efficiency in counting votes.
    • Minimising errors
      • It will help in minimising errors and easing the overall process for the voter by utilising basic features such as Facial recognition technology (FRTs) and biometric identification protocols.

    Concerns/Issues

    • Reliability  
      • O.P. Rawat, who was the CEC in 2018, agreed that if the security of EVMs that are standalone devices was questioned from time to time, then Internet-based voting would have even more issues and critics.
    • Cyber Risks: Remote Voting is based on blockchain, therefore it might be attacked by hackers which would distort the final result.
    • Issues of Privacy: It saves users’ biometrics and other data which can be misused by hackers and other parties that would undermine the right to privacy.
      • Stealing biometric information at the pre-voting phase, or infecting the blockchain during the counting phase, both stand as equally dangerous issues in a democratic setup.

    Way Forward 

    • It can be stated that blockchain technology in elections is a double-edged sword and one needs to ponder upon whether there are additional complications that arise out of the same.
    • The existing laws will have to be amended to undertake that gigantic exercise which also requires political consensus.
    • The issue of individual privacy and data protection in the course of collation, authentication of personal data for blockchain elections require significant deliberation. 
      • There would be process changes and wider consultations with all the stakeholders including political parties before the facility is rolled out.
    • In order to ensure an effective blockchain election system, two points stand pertinent: 
      • Cryptography involved blockchain election system should ensure a tamper-free record, display, and calculation of data involved in the election.
      • Policymakers should pay attention to the aspect of data protection and privacy in the course of authenticating a valid voter via biometric systems.

    Source: TH