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Election Commission Looking at ‘Vote From Workplace’ EVMs

The Election Commission of India is examining a plan to allow migrants to vote for a candidate in their home constituencies from anywhere in the country. The proposal under discussion involves ushering in a new-age electronic voting machine that will have a dynamic candidate’s list to enable voting for a contestant in one’s home constituency.

Current EVMs have a constituency specific ballot unit which lists candidates only for a specific constituency. EVMs with a ‘dynamic ballot paper’ will display a list of contestants of a voter’s home constituency. For instance, a voter registered in Malda but working in Delhi will be able to vote for a candidate of her choice in Malda from Delhi. At present, migrant voters are unable to vote unless they go to their constituency.

About 10,000 new-age EVMs are estimated to serve the purpose with every district given 5-6 such machines at various ‘remote voting’ centres with a higher number in bigger cities having higher migrant population. The full Election Commission is set to soon deliberate a conceptual framework of the technology to enable vote-from-anywhere, with the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in mind, officials told ET. Pilot runs are likely to be done during bypolls.

In April, the poll panel set up a seven-member technical advisory group chaired by Rajat Moona, the former director general of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing and with experts from IIT Madras, Delhi and Bombay as members to work on a plan to develop a ‘remote voting framework’. Moona told ET that a ‘prototype demonstration’ would be done in a month to ECI.

“We are looking at an EVM which instead of a fixed paper ballot for a specific constituency will have a dynamic candidate’s list display to allow one to vote for a candidate in one’s constituency. So each machine would be able to help voters of multiple constituencies cast the ballot instead of being specific to one constituency. New machines will have to be brought in for the purpose and we hope to share the conceptual plan and prototype soon with the EC, which will take a final decision on it, Moona confirmed to ET.

The study group has identified two key challenges: Minimal internet use with high safety features. Current EVMs do not use any internet and therefore are considered ‘hackproof’. The second challenge would be formulating a protocol for vote counting, VVPAT checks and verification for ballots cast using the dynamic EVMs.

“The latter is the toughest part and we are looking at a few choices for the purpose of counting and VVPAT verification. ECI’s inputs and view on the right choice will be taken. We hope to have clarity by January so that we can plan pilot projects and ultimately scale up the use of the machine in the next Lok Sabha election,” Moona added.

EC is planning a technology shift along with the proposed postal ballot-based voting for NRIs. Incidentally, when consultations were held with political parties on allowing postal ballot for NRIs, many in the opposition, including Congress, argued that steps need to be first taken to ensure domestic migrants are able to vote, regardless of geographic location.

The EC itself has been alive to the issue of domestic voters missing out for a while now. At an all-party meeting called by the Commission in 2018, one of the issues on the agenda was ‘alternative modes of voting for domestic migrants and absentee voters’. The feasibility of providing polling booths in several states every time there would be an assembly election anywhere in the country would also need to be considered unless the concept is limited to Lok Sabha elections.