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The Future of Elections in the Internet Age – Shwetank Dixit

Shwetank dixitI recently went to Pune to be part of Remote Voting Conference organised by C-DAC, with active participation from the Electoral Commission of India. The agenda of the two-day conference was the issue of allowing indian citizens to vote remotely, and the various aspects related to it. This was a collective brainstorming event meant to bring together administrative and technical people together to study the pros and cons of online elections (including whethere we should even go for it or not, and if so, what things to keep in mind). It was a very academic affair where where studied opinions as well as complex technology issues and case studies were discussed and debated.

The first thing I gained when leaving from this event was an even more amount of respect for the Election Commission of India. They have done an amazing job so far under extremely challenging circumstances and pressure, and are proud of the fact that they are responsible for a free and fair election for the largest democracy on earth and aware of just how important their role is for the functioning of democracy.

We have around 815 million eligible voters in India. The ECI is responsible for all national and state elections. Its around 3.5 billion votes being handled every 5 years or statistically speaking, 20 lakh votes being handled every day. This is a huge undertaking for the world’s largest democracy, and they have an extremely tough job where the stakes are high if things go wrong.

The second thing I took away from this event is being made aware of the complexity of the problem at hand. This is a very hard problem to solve, with a lot of complicated issues from legal, administrative, political, public policy and technical angles.

This post is going to be a general primer on the issue. Some of the stats and examples I have cited came from the speakers in the conference, and I couldn’t verify them myself – take everything mentioned here as subjective opinion unless you have verified them yourself.

We’ll first start with some basic clarifications of terms related to this whole topic.

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  • i-Voting: This is voting done through the internet. It can be through a website, or an app as well.
  • e-Voting: This is supposed to be voting done through any electronic channel, but mostly, it is thought of as voting done through Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). We’ll just consider e-Voting as voting done through EVMs for now.
  • Paper Ballot Voting: The voter gets a form, fills out his candidate, and sends it back to the election commission authority through regular mail.
  • R-Voting: Any type of voting where you do not come to a poll booth to vote. This can include voting through the internet, or a kiosk, or even posting paper ballot through regular snail-mail.

During this conference, sometimes i-Voting was described as e-Voting, which made things a bit confusing (and I had to sift through the context of what they were saying to determine which one they meant, which was annoying sometimes), so for the purpose of this post, we’ll stick to the definitions above.

Voting can also be divided into two broad categories according to the setting in which they are conducted.

  • Supervised Voting: Or voting in a supervised setting, this is when the environment in which the voter is operating, is supervised by election officials, so that they can see if things are happening in a free and fair manner. The standard example of this would be the typical poll booth you go into for voting.
  • Unsupervised Voting: Or voting in an unsupervised setting, this is when the environment can not be checked and monitored by the election officials. An example of this could be Paper Ballot Voting, and internet voting.

Why do we need people to vote remotely in the first place?

Read the rest here. Crossposted with permission.

Shwetank Dixit works in the Developer Relations and Extensions teams in Opera Software. For a number of years, he has been involved in efforts related to web standards, best practices and the overall betterment of the web as a platform. 
The views expressed above are his own and not of his employer or any other group unless stated so otherwise. His twitter handle is http://twitter.com/shwetank

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