Can IT stop the death of democracy?

An article in Indian Express on 5.5.2004 mentions a complaint- “In Andhra’s Nanagapaka village, early voters complained that when they pressed the button of the Congress the light of the Telegu Desam party glowed.” I had not taken a similar story from Bihar when a report in local media said- ‘whatever button was pressed in the EVM, the light glowed in front of lantern, giving the vote to RJD (Laloo’s Party)’. Indian Express article was authored by a technologist, Ravi Visvesvaraya Prasad – He has listed some technical flaws that EVM may show. Flaws can cause errors and manipulation. Through a feedback letter, I requested Mr. Prasad to avoid raising such an issue during election. It will create confusion. He should come out with technical suggestions to solve the problems. However, both the manufacturers- Bharat Electronics Ltd. (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. (ECIL) claim the machines to be tamper-proof. A million of EVMs have been deployed in this election. A similar article appeared in Economic Times on 4.5.2004 – ‘EVM’s fine, but polls can be rigged’ And then a news on 6.5.2005 in Hindustan Times- ‘The presiding officer and 11 others were arrested on charges of bogus voting and rigging.’ To add to my sorrow, a news channel has today shown BSF jawans rigging the votes. Is the news shocking or should we live with these for ever?

The machines are to be further sophisticated and automated. The machines must be more user-friendly and more robust to avoid its misuse. The machines must be tamper proof against all the variability that can be caused by unscrupulous technicians under the guidance of their officers. Can it contain the thumb impressions of all the voters for the booth in its reference file, and when the voter puts his thumb on the switch against his choice, it records his vote after verification? But my proposition is not limited to making it tamper proof and to removing even the perception of its manipulation. It may require education. In next 2-3 years, extensive education programme must cover the total population.

Can our IT professional improve the machines with latest technology to an extent where the system can hit at all the pertinent issues- the way the election is conducted and its cost that runs in billion, the large scale deployment of manpower for manning each booth that are 700,000 this time? Can it be made an unmanned affair, where the armies of the presiding officers are not needed? Can the machine work like an ATM, so that the voters insert his card and record his vote? Can the vote be stored instantaneously in a distant central data storage bank through wireless system, so that the machines are not to be stored in locker rooms and protected before counting days?

IT professional and the administration should take up the challenge of devising means to make the process of election simple. The candidate can put his papers for candidature on line with EC. All the voters come to know about the candidates by his work for the society and not through his marriage-like procession or campaign yatras. Voters get access to the candidates’ affidavits that can be made available through e-chaupal type sites. The local newspapers publish a comparison of different aspects of candidates credentials based on affidavits. How can the country get rid of this huge wastage of money and human resources, more so the aberration in society? Can not everything be done quietly maintaining the right of secrecy of voters totally? Can we not come out with a system that eliminates the interference by Papu Yadav and similar musclemen, the booth captures, the influence of ruling party and its administration? Can we not avoid a system where the candidate is to campaign and show his in his constituency only once in five years? Our election system is at the root of all corruptions and creates a parallel economy. Our technologists and managers should think of a way out to make the system fully safe, secured and reliable while maintaining the total secrecy of the opinion of the individual. Our politicians must agree and legislate to stop criminals even the perceived ones to participate and win by threat or the perception of threat even from prison, otherwise the generation to come will not excuse them for their follies. I am the innovations are on. For the first time in world, India -a country with all diversity has used the electronic voting machines this large scale. It has cut down on the cost of paper ballot papers that will be in crores. But let the technologists make the system perfect.

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