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I-voting – A New Digital Transformation Trend in Government

The internet has, since the turn of the century, thrown open the possibility of accessing services from the comfort of your home. It was also the internet that had made remote work a possibility during the pandemic. As internet proliferation increases rapidly, users are getting used to a plethora of services including e-commerce, internet banking and, most recently, e-governance.

In India, the central and state governments have made rapid strides in the area of smart governance, with services related vehicle registration, Aadhaar, taxation, voter ID card, etc. becoming available online.

When it comes to elections in India, electronic voting machines (EVMs) have been used during Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in the country for some years now. However, these machines are direct recording electronic (DRE) machines so voters in India have to physically cast their votes on these machines.

A Digital Strategy for your organisation involves deep down analysis and recommendation around strategy, leadership, culture, business processes, data and technology. While ensuring the adoption is critical for the success of a digital transformation program, creating compatible, efficient technology platform(s) is also important. To achieve this, you’ll need to select the appropriate tools/technologies/platforms and plan the execution with inputs from technology advisors of the new age. At the consultation stage, for strategic inputs you’ll need to work closely not only with advisors but also with the business leaders of your organization.

Though in India the Electronic Voting system through EVM is widely prevalent, the system comes with its own share of drawbacks:

  • The EVM machines are costly, bulky, need to be powered by batteries, and need safe keeping
  • EVM machines get outdated very soon and need replacement. Generally, the hardware-based with a limited scope of software updates
  • Voters still need to come to the EVM to vote
  • Counting still requires adding up votes from different machines
  • Booth capturing is possible as votes are stored on individual EVM machines and not in a central server
  • Manual authentication of voters necessitates expenditure of significant resources

Recently, some countries around the world have been experimenting with a system that eliminates most of the disadvantages of electronic voting using DREs. This new format enables voters to exercise their franchise from any computer connected to the Internet—including from their home. This type of voting mechanism is sometimes referred to as I-voting or Internet voting.

I-voting is also known by various names like eVoting or Electronic Voting, mVoting or Mobile Voting, and rVoting or Remote Voting. By whatever name it is called, generally speaking, online voting means voting electronically with the help of the internet without voters needing to go physically to a particular booth to cast their vote.

Beyond voting in regularly scheduled elections, the emergence of these new technologies is an opportunity to transform democracy, enabling citizens to participate directly in the decision-making process. However, many countries decided that the Internet was not secure enough for voting purposes. I-voting trials have been undertaken in some countries, including Estonia, Switzerland, France, and the Philippines.

Electronic voting enables citizens to vote electronically, improving accessibility and reducing the potential for errors associated with manual vote collecting and counting. It also significantly increases voter turnout and reduces costs associated with traditional paper ballots or the electronic voting system with a physical presence.

The first use of Internet voting for a binding political election took place in the US in 2000, with more countries subsequently beginning to conduct trials of and use Internet voting. A total of 14 countries have now used remote Internet voting for binding political elections or referenda.

Estonia is the only country to offer Internet voting to the entire electorate. The remaining countries have either just adopted it, are currently piloting Internet voting, have piloted it and not pursued its further use, or have discontinued its use.

Examples of Internet voting in other countries around the world vary widely in scope and functionality. The early cases of Internet voting were less technically advanced than those being developed more recently. Many of the changes seen in Internet voting systems have been aimed at improving the quality of elections delivered by these systems and meeting emerging standards for electronic voting.

It is fair to say that Internet voting is not a commonly used means of voting. Internet voting is a relatively new technology that has developed significantly over the past ten years. Internet voting seems to fit a niche corner of the electoral process for many countries. It is largely targeted at those who cannot attend their polling station in person on Election Day.

Many more countries have expressed or shown an interest in the use of Internet voting, especially when they have large numbers of expatriate voters. However, the implementation of Internet voting, according to emerging standards, is a very technical exercise. It can also pose some difficult political questions if the aim is to facilitate the inclusion of large numbers of expatriate citizens in the political process.

I-voting has some major benefits:

  • Since voters do not have to step out of their homes, I-voting can ensure high percentage of votes cast
  • There are significant cost savings, since in elections involving EVMs or ballot, the entire state machinery has to be deployed at a huge cost
  • Time is saved not only in deploying state agents in booths, but also in registering votes setting up counting centres, transporting EVMs, counting and checking the counts in multiple rounds
  • Logically, along with time and cost savings, the election commission can save themselves the effort of deploying and monitoring physical infrastructure and manpower during the elections
  • Also, since technology makes available a variety of tools for authentication and security, it will be easier to ensure free and fair elections through I-voting.

With the Government of India establishing ambitious programmes for increasing internet coverage and establishing smart cities, this may be the perfect time to explore I-voting options on an experimental basis. The Indian Election Commission, however, has not yet accepted I-voting as a legitimate means to conduct elections in this country.

However, with the practice slowly gaining acceptance in a few countries, maybe I-voting will be the voting system of choice in all democratic countries some time in the near future.

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