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Telangana State Election Commission drops e-voting plan for Hyderabad local body elections

The Telangana State Election Commission (TSEC) has decided to drop its plan to introduce e-voting in the upcoming Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections. The TSEC found itself unable to implement e-voting without amending the GHMC Act, State Election Commissioner C. Parthasarathi told MediaNama. Additionally, the state’s IT department asked TSEC for more time to deliver the technology and there wasn’t enough time, he said. The IT department is quite confident about delivering the a working solution, he added. The development was first reported by the Deccan Chronicle.

The GHMC elections will be held on December 1, with counting on December 4, according to the schedule announced by the TSEC on Tuesday. More than 74 lakh voters are eligible to vote across GHMC’s 150 wards. Earlier this month, the TSEC had announced that e-voting would allow senior citizens, polling officials, and COVID-19 patients to vote remotely using their mobile phones. If it had been implemented, it would have been a first in the country, making it another distinction for the TSEC, which had made history by being the first election body in India to deploy facial recognition in the Kompally urban local body elections in January this year.

‘GHMC Act has to be amended’

Parthasarathi said that TSEC cannot implement e-voting without a significant amendment of the GHMC Act. He pointed out that the Assembly session had been concluded last month, and said the government isn’t keen to amend the Act in the form of an ordinance.

“E-voting is an entirely different method of voting. And TSEC is bound to act per [GHMC] Act. That is a must. The language in the current Act only talks about ballot papers and EVMs, and has nothing about online voting. So an amendment is absolutely necessary.” — C. Parthasarathi, State Election Commissioner, Telangana to MediaNama

Parthasarathi added that the TSEC had, in fact, sent the government the suggested text for amendment, but the government said it was too late.

Earlier this month, when the e-voting announcement was made, the TSEC had plans to implement the technology in the Warangal and Khammam corporation elections that are expected sometime in 2021. But this was conditional on the e-voting system’s success in the GHMC elections.

When asked if the TSEC’s plans remain unchanged vis-a-vis Warangal and Khammam, Parthasarathi said he would take the matter up with the government once the GHMC elections over. “Ultimately, government has to issue some order, permitting me to [conduct e-voting],” he said.

Additionally, according to the Deccan Chronicle’s report, GHMC officials were wary of implementing the e-voting plan. Sources told the publication that the e-voting process would be hindered if computer operators aren’t skilled and trained for the job. Also, they were reportedly fearful of political parties influencing e-voters in some way.

‘Software team needed more time’

Another reason for dropping the plan, Parthasarathi said, was that the state IT department, tasked with delivering the e-voting technology, was unable to deliver within the necessary time period. “They are very confident that they will be able to deliver the technology, but needed another month’s time. Since this concerns elections, they want to be completely sure to avoid any problems. They are being extra careful while conducting trials so there are no problems during elections,” he said.

Multiple changes to plan before cancellation

The e-voting plan first came to light in late September. The TSEC was considering using a blockchain-based e-voting. Initially, Telangana State Technology Services (TSTS), a specialised agency under the IT department, was supposed to implement a facial recognition-based authentication mechanism for the e-voting system. G.T. Venkateshwar Rao, the managing director of TSTS, had told us that the facial recognition software would be based on Telangana’s already widely-used Real Time Digital Authentication of Identity (RTDAI) system.

This plan was eventually modified last month, after the TSEC made the e-voting an official part of the plan. Ranjan had told us that the e-voting system would instead be based on Aadhaar. Eligible voters were supposed to be authenticated using one-time password (OTP) sent to their Aadhaar-linked mobile number on a preregistered device.

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