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Remote Voting Facility – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • June 21, 2021
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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Topic: General Studies 2:

  • Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies. 
  • Functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies (Election Commission)

In News: Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora has expressed hope that the concept of remote voting may see the light of day by the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

  • Over the last few months, a dedicated team has been working hard for giving shape to this project, said CEC
  • The first pilot project could be rolled out in the next ‘two to three months,’ the CEC said.
  • The project is neither aimed at internet-based voting nor does it imply voting from home.

The Commission will soon be giving shape to the final model of such voting, after due deliberation on various options. This will entail some process changes as well and there will be wider consultations with political parties and other stakeholders.

The “blockchain” technology involved in the project

The concept is a “two-way electronic voting system in a controlled environment on white-listed IP devices on dedicated Internet lines enabled with biometric devices and a web camera”.

  • It does not mean voting from home – voters will have to reach a designated venue during a pre-decided period of time to be able to use this facility.
  • When the vote is cast, the ballot will be securely encrypted and a blockchain hashtag generated. This hashtag notification will be sent to various stakeholders, in this case the candidates and political parties.
  • The encrypted remote votes so cast will once again be validated at the pre-counting stage to ensure that they have neither been decrypted nor tampered with or replaced.
  • Voters may have to apply in advance to their returning officers to exercise the option.

Suppose there is a Lok Sabha election and a Chennai voter is in Delhi. Instead of returning to vote in his or her constituency or missing out on voting, the voter can reach a pre-designated spot set up by the EC, say in Connaught Place, in a particular time window and can cast his vote.

On the issue of Commission’s proposal to allow eligible overseas Indian voters use one-way electronically transferred postal ballots to cast vote – after the elections to five assemblies are over, the poll panel would hold a seminar with all stakeholders as suggested by the government. At present, non-resident Indians can vote in the constituency in which their place of residence, as mentioned in the passport, is located.

What is Blockchain Technology?

  • A blockchain is a distributed ledger of information which is replicated across various nodes on a “peer-to-peer” network (P2P Network)
  • The purpose of technology is of ensuring integrity and verifiability of data stored on the ledger.
  • Blockchain ledgers have traditionally been used as supporting structures for cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum,however, their use in non-cryptocurrency applications too has seen a steady rise like enabling remote voting and elections.

What are the benefits of remote voting?

  • Solved the problem of ballot portability: Remote voting would appear to benefit internal migrants and seasonal workers, who account for roughly 51 million of the populace (Census 2011).
  • Useful for People in Remote Places: The envisioned solution might also be useful for some remotely-stationed members of the Indian armed forces (although that exhaustive infrastructure of Elections has helped address this)
  • Helps Increase Voter Participation: Remote voting solutions may facilitate the participation in elections by specific groups of citizens, including expats, military voters, voters resident in health and care institutions, and prisoners.
  • Speed and Secure: The blockchain-based voting system not only provides real-time results, but also ensures that the counting is foolproof, and with blockchain, nobody can tamper the results.

What are the Challenges associated with Blockchain Remote Voting?

  • Requirement of physical presence and biometric authentication: The electors would still have to physically reach a designated venue in order to cast their vote, whereby systems would use “white-listed IP devices on dedicated internet lines”, and the system would make use of the biometric attributes of electors
  • Adds Vulnerability to failure: Digitisation and interconnectivity introduce additional points of failure external to the processes which exist in the present day
  • Technology not yet fully secure: Blockchain solutions rely heavily on the proper implementation of cryptographic protocols. If any shortcomings exist in an implementation, it might be misused
  • Prone to targeted Denial-of-Service attacks -where an attacker would be in a position to block traffic from the system, effectively preventing, or at the very least delaying the registration of votes
  • Privacy Issues: With such intrusive technology being used in elections, which when interconnected can go against the Puttaswamy judgement [on the right to privacy]

Case Study: Telangana government explores ways to integrate blockchain with voting process

The Telangana government is taking forward its plan to introduce blockchain into the voting process. In the days to come, it may integrate the technology to enable remote voting, especially for senior citizens.

The IT Department is contemplating making the technology available for voting, for any election, provided it gets all the necessary clearances. 

In December 2020, the Telangana State Election Commission, in coordination with the Information Technology Electronics and Communications (ITEC) Department, had planned to test the blockchain-enabled remote voting method in the GHMC elections.

The elections took place in the backdrop of the pandemic as it was precarious for the elderly to go out and vote. Yet they could not use the technology because for this to happen the Municipal Act needs to be amended. They had the greenlight from the State Election Commission. The IT Department had even constituted an expert committee to formulate a plan for using the technology, but the state could not do it as there was no way the Act could be amended in the given circumstances. 

The official clarified that Aadhaar would not be used in blockchain-enabled remote voting. One would need to use their existing voter identification which is authorised by the election authorities. Also, this method works on an OTP-based system. One has to pre-register themselves, after which the voter needs to get a photo clicked of themselves. This photo should match with their photo identity. They will get an OTP on their phone while voting.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Active participation in a democracy should be voluntary. Critically evaluate.
  2. Will remote voting prove to be a boon? Discuss.

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