New Delhi is in the midst of a major exercise to reform the way elections are held in India.
The next General Election is scheduled for the summer of 2014 when it will be held unless political circumstances trigger advancement.
The reform exercise seems to be principally for the Lok Sabha election although elections to a few state assemblies are scheduled before that – in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Rajasthan and, possibly, Jharkhand.
Existing laws and thoughts
The government’s focus appears to be on criminalisation of politics, funding of election campaigns and misuse of the media.
Since the centre is looking at these two issues, it has made the Law Commission the nodal body to consider and suggest changes in laws relating to elections.
The Law Commission has said it would wait until 31 July to receive comments and suggestions.
You can read the official statement on the deadline for suggestions here.
It will tell you all you need to know about the whys and whats of the process.
But the Law Commission is looking for recommendations to improve what it has put together in its Consultation Paper on Electoral Reforms.
You can read and download the Consultation Paper in English and Hindi here.
The omnibus law under which elections in India are held is the Representation of the People Act [RPA], originally enacted in 1951. You can read and download the Act here.
What they’re overlooking
It can take a couple of hours to read and internalise the press release asking for suggestions, the Consultation Paper on which the recommendations are being sought and the RPA.
Once you do that, you may realise that the government has not factored the Election Commission of India [ECI] in this exercise.
They seem to think that all is well with the way the Election Commission conducts polls. The ECI is the best such institution in the world. Every year it trains other nations in conducting elections.
But there’s much to improve in the way the elections are held, which is different from promulgating laws to decide who may contest and how much they may spend.
The ordinary voter, which means you and me, is at the centre of all elections. No voters, no elections.
The voter has nothing to do with how political parties choose candidates. Mostly, the candidates are disappointing but we vote anyway.
The one step that could help us
The current process of voting, which has been practiced for 60 years with minor modifications, is tedious and unsafe.
It is also stressful. Political parties use the process of identifying voters to virtually bully them in urban areas.
In rural areas, votes are bought with cash and liquor. It’s a straight business deal.
We can improve all this by going online.
The Election Commission can start a new website called, say, voteindia.in or anything that indicates it is a platform to vote.
We may use the Aadhar card number to login. The government has made the Aadhar card mandatory for all government services and it could easily extend it to voting as well.
I say Aadhar card because the biometrics are already done and this makes it a more secure option than, say, the Voter I-card.
After logging in, we may need to answer two or three random security questions to ensure it is us. The system will throw up the questions based on the data entered in the Aadhar form.
We may then pick our state and the Lok Sabha constituency within the state we wish to vote in.
We could get an online receipt/statement/certificate that we have voted.
We may download and save or print the receipt/statement/certificate. We could even get it in our inbox.
How this helps
- This saves the paper needed for polling slips, ballot paper [where still used] and printouts with EVMs.
- It saves time and energy spent in going to polling booths and waiting for your turn.
- It is safer. There’s no chance of booth-capturing or rigging.
- There’s no need to provide security.
- There’s no need to enlist polling officers.
- There’s no need for these officers to travel to remote places at high risk.
- There’s no need to get tense and anxious over the security of EVMs and/or ballot boxes.
- There’s no need to buy and use election ink.
- It will force people to get Internet-savvy.
- It will force growth of genuine broadband in India.
- It will save trees and tons of money that may be used for genuine welfare schemes.
There could be issues arising from this. For instance:
Data safety: Voting data may be stored on secure servers that the Indian government and the Election Commission use.
Impersonation: Children may vote for adults in homes. This is possible only if the adults share answers to the random security questions the system will throw up. At worst, it might affect 1 per cent of voting.
Offline voters: Could be rural adults, the homeless, prisoners, defence personnel and others posted away from home bases, and people who can’t read or write.
For them, a drive must start now; like they did with the Aadhar cards.
Mobile phones could also be used, just like they do with Aadhar cards and direct cash transfers. This might cover some of the voters who might otherwise be wary of online voting.
Also, advance voting must be allowed from the day the polling schedule is announced. This is a great way to motivate people to vote.
Our legislature might be more representative.
These are some of my thoughts on this. Please feel free to share your thoughts. You may post comments on this article and also send your recommendations to the Law Commission before 31 July.
Before I sign off, I must credit the man who put the bug in my head.
In a 2006 conversation, Kismat Shaikh, nano tech scientist born in Nandurbar – the birthplace of the Aadhar card – first suggested that we could use mobile phones to vote.
Shaikh is now with the King Saud University in Saudi Arabia. He is an ordinary Indian – the biggest strength of India.
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Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be cont acted at firstname.lastname@example.org.