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Baba’s Explainer – Remote Voting by ECI

  • IASbaba
  • January 6, 2023
  • 0
Governance
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Syllabus

  • GS-1: Indian Society, Urbanisation and problems
  • GS-2: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential
  • GS-2: Fundamental Rights.

Context: The Election Commission (EC) has recently announced that it is ready to pilot remote voting for domestic migrants, so they don’t have to travel back to their home states to vote. This comes on the back of EC’s acknowledgement of migration-based disenfranchisement.

What is the scenario of India’s internal migration?
  • Huge Numbers: India has an estimated 600 million migrants. In other words, roughly half of India is living in a place where it wasn’t born.
  • Intra-State Migration: An estimated 400 million Indians “migrate” within the district they live in. The next 140 million migrate from one district to another but within the same state.
  • Inter-State Migration: And only about 60 million — that is, just 10% of all internal migrants — move from one state to another.
  • Rural Migration: The most dominant form of migration is from rural to rural areas. Only about 20% of the total migration (600 million) is from rural to urban areas.
  • Urban Migration: 20% of the total migration is from one urban area to another urban area. As such, urban migration (rural to urban as well as urban to urban) accounts for 40% of the total migration.
  • Potential for increase in future: As India adopts a strategy of rapid urbanisation — for example, by building so-called smart cities and essentially using cities as centres of economic growth — levels of internal migration will increase further.
  • COVID-19 induced Shock: It is estimated that close to 60 million moved back to their “source” rural areas in the wake of pandemic-induced lockdowns. That number is roughly six-times the official estimates. That estimate also gives a measure of the sense of labour shock that India’s economy faced as migrants moved back.

The concern of “vulnerable circular migrants”

  • 200 million were broadly affected by the Covid disruption.
  • The worst-hit were “vulnerable circular migrants”. These are people who are “vulnerable” because of their weak position in the job market and “circular” migrants because even though they work in urban settings, they continue to have a foothold in the rural areas.
  • Such migrants work in construction sites or small factories or as rickshaw pullers in the city but when such employment avenues dwindle, they go back to their rural setting
  • They constitute 75% of the informal economy outside agriculture — most shocks, be it demonetisation or GST or the pandemic disruption, tend to rob them of their livelihood.
How significant is the migrant vote?
  • While registered voters do not end up voting for a variety of reasons, domestic migration is a major contributor in the Indian context.
  • In a concept note, the EC has admitted that the absence of a central database for migrants poses a problem on the issue of remote voting.
  • However, the EC recognises that “migration-based disenfranchisement is indeed not an option in the age of technological advancement.”
  • As per the 2011 census, 45.36 crore Indians (37% of the population) were internal migrants, settled in a place different from that of their registered residence.
  • While 67.4% of the eligible 91.2 crore Indians voted in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, about one-third or close to 30 crore voters did not cast their vote.
  • Voters who are absent from their home locations on the day of polling, even if they wish to vote, are unable to travel to vote due to various reasons.
  • This means that there is a large chunk of the population which is denied its franchise due to exigencies of work or lack of resources to travel.
  • This goes directly against the EC’s “No voter left behind” goal.
  • Inability to vote due to internal migration (domestic migrants) is one of the prominent reasons to be addressed to improve voter turnout and ensure participative elections.
What is the Remote EVMs, the proposed solution to migrant voting problem?
  • To further understand this issue, the EC had formed a “Committee of Officers on Domestic Migrants”, which submitted a report in late 2016 after considering various possible solutions such as internet voting, proxy voting, early voting and postal ballots for migrant workers.
  • However, all of these ideas were rejected due to reasons such as the lack of secrecy of the vote, the lack of sanctity of one person one vote principle, issues of accessibility for unlettered voters, etc.
  • Thus, a technological solution was proposed which relies on the creation of a robust electoral roll and identification mechanisms (to stop duplicate voting), and allow voters to vote remotely, in a safe and controlled environment.
  • ECI has developed a prototype for a Multi-Constituency Remote Electronic Voting Machine (RVM) that can handle multiple constituencies from a single remote polling booth.
  • The RVMs are “stand alone, non-networked systems,” effectively providing the voter the same experience as currently used EVMs. They will be set up in remote locations outside the state under similar conditions as current polling booths.
  • The unique feature of RVMs is that a single Remote Ballot Unit (RBU) will be able to cater to multiple constituencies (as many as 72) by using a “dynamic ballot display board” instead of the usual printed paper ballot sheet on EVMs.
  • The Ballot Unit Overlay Display (BUOD) will show the requisite candidates based on the constituency number read on the voter’s Constituency card. A barcode scanning system will be used to read these cards.
  • The voting process will be as follows: after verifying a voter’s identity, their constituency card will be read with a public display showing the constituency details and candidates. This will also be displayed privately, on the BUOD in the RVM’s RBU.
  • The voter will then vote and each vote will be stored constituency-wise in the control unit of the voting machine.
  • The VVPAT system is expected to work along the same lines with the new technology.
  • The EC has invited all recognised eight national and 57 state political parties on January 16 to demonstrate the functioning of the RVM and has asked for their written views by January 31.
  • The RVM was developed with the assistance of Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL). It is based on the currently used EVM system.
What are the hurdles?

The system has issues, some of which the EC has itself acknowledged.

  • Non-Uniform Constituency: Migrants are not a uniform and defined class, with fluid identities, locations and situations. In context of the transience of migration in India, the problem for the EC is to create an inclusive definition of migrants which at the same time does not open the system up to misuse.
  • Trust on technology: As various countries reject EVMs for paper-based ballots, does this move have the potential to raise further questions on the sanctity of the electoral process itself. While the EC claims that RVMs are as secure as currently used EVMs, more technological components are bound to raise further questions.
  • Favours Rich & National Parties: There are questions raised as to how remote voting affect elections and campaigning? In a playing field which is far from level, remote voting can theoretically provide an added edge to bigger parties and richer candidates who can campaign across the constituency and beyond.

Main Practice Question: Elaborate on the technological measures taken by Election Commission of India to fulfil its Constitutional mandate?

Note: Write answer his question in the comment section.


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