Former CECs flag political hurdles, security concerns over e-voting

Opinion comes at a time when Telangana SEC is set to carry out an e-voting experiment

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

The Telangana SEC would be carrying out a smartphone app-based online voting experiment on October 20, the State Government had announced last week. The ECI, on the other hand, had said last year that it was looking at the option of remote voting for those electors who cannot reach the polling stations they are registered at, however, this could entail voting from another location set up by the authorities and not Internet-based voting from home.

Former CEC S.Y. Quraishi said he wished the Telangana team the best, but “developing an app is child’s play.” He said the ECI had ruled out the option.

“Even the simplest technology, the Electronic Voting Machine [EVM] that is based on the 17th Century calculator, is a matter of legal disputes…The technology is simple, credibility and trust in the technology is the issue,” he said.

He added that if EVMs were still being challenged, how would an Internet-based system of voting be acceptable.

O.P. Rawat, who was the CEC in 2018, agreed with Mr. Quraishi’s argument that if the security of EVMs that are standalone devices was questioned from time to time, then Internet-based voting would have even more critics.

“It is a dicey proposition because elections are conducted with the total trust of voters, political parties, candidates and the public at large. One has to see to it that during voting, the voter ID, the environment [that is if there is any coercion], and the security of ballots cast till the time of counting are maintained,” Mr. Rawat said.

He said that based on what was known about the e-voting plan publicly so far, it was not clear how verification of voter identification, maintaining a free voting environment and secrecy of ballots would be maintained. “It is near impossible,” he said.

‘Long journey’

Former CEC N. Gopalaswami was of the view that “security issues can be overcome”, but it would be “political hurdles” that would be difficult to cross. He said the EVM itself had had a long journey. “It took 10 years for the required law to be passed,” he said.

On the proposal of remote voting, Mr. Gopalaswami gave the hypothetical example of a State election, say the Bihar Assembly polls, where 50,000 to 1 lakh registered voters live in Tamil Nadu. The voters would be registered across the 243 constituencies of Bihar and it would be impossible for the ECI to keep 243 EVMs in each of the remote voting locations, so an electronic solution would be needed, he explained. Then the issue of campaigning for outstation voters would also crop up, he said. Ultimately, it would be the political parties that would have to find it acceptable, he said.

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