How to vote online in Gujarat Assembly elections?
The short answer is – Online voting is not allowed by government in Gujarat Assembly Elections. You will have to visit the booth, stand in a queue and vote. If you are outstation, then sorry, you are being denied your right to vote.
The next question is why online voting is not allowed in Gujarat Assembly Elections? This is a very important and pertinent question.
Let’s first discuss why online voting should be allowed and is the demand of the voters:
- Right of people: Right to vote is an important right of voters and by not providing online voting option, voters are being denied their right. Many Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and other citizens have filed Public Interest Litigations (PILs) in supreme court and other Indian courts demanding online voting option. However, Election Commission of India (ECI) and Government of India (GOI) is dragging their feats on the matter for more then a decade now.
- Proven technology: On one hand government is asking its citizen to do money transaction digitally and online and on the other hand they can’t make an excuse that online voting or online transactions are not safe. Right2Vote Infotech Pvt Ltd has built an online voting technology which is tested and certified by Standardization Testing and Quality Certification (STQC) Directorate, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India (GOI). Countries like Estonia moved to online voting way back in 2005.
- PM’s focus on Digital India: Prime Minister of India Shri. Narendra Modi always talks about Digital India and need to digitize government departments and bodies. In 2010, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he introduced online voting in Gandhinagar local body election. Hence, as PM of India, he cannot make excuses like he is not aware of online voting / sceptical of technology / sceptical of effectiveness.
- Increases voter participation: Online voting can substantially increase the voter turnout which is currently at around 66%. Many sections of population including Non-Residents, migrants, old and ill, students, daily wage earners, transport sector employees are denied right to vote as they are unable to travel to the booth and stand in a queue to vote. Online vote can enable them to vote within minutes from anywhere.
- Cheaper and efficient: Online voting can save 90% cost, 90% time and 99% human resource requirement. Right now, India spends more than Rs. 10,000 crores in each state elections. Election process from set up to result declaration is a long process which may go up to a month or so. Himachal Pradesh election result is kept pending for more then a month due to Gujarat elections. With online voting the whole process can be completed in a day including counting and result declaration. The biggest benefit is that we do not have to force government school teachers and other government employees to take on election duty and they can focus on their primary job.
- Email type online voting option (in name of postal ballot) already provided to certain government employees: ECI has already introduced 2-way digital postal ballot for soldiers, foreign service officers and government employees on election duty to provide remote voting option. Although the current system is not real time and not very efficient, but it is online voting. If government is willing to provide online voting option to government employees, there is no excuse to deny it to other citizens as when it comes to voting rights, citizens should not be discriminated against on basis of government job.
Now that it is settled that online voting is much better than current election system of EVM machines in a booth, lets discuss why government is not implementing online voting:
- Current EVM based offline voting system is working in favour of ruling party: BJP has been winning elections after elections in the current EVM based offline voting system. They do not have any incentive to change what is working for them.
- Election Commission of India (ECI) and bureaucracy avoids change: ECI officials are retired or about to retire senior bureaucrats who have little incentive to initiate change. They do not want to take risk and effort of change at fag end of their careers. ECI job is seen as a retirement posting.
- Voters who are denied right to vote have no say: Voters like migrant workers, NRIs who are being denied right to vote due to absence of online voting do not have any say. The only say a voter has in a democracy is his vote. When politicians know that the voter will not be able to vote, they do not care about his demands and requirements. This is why, nobody cares about the state of migrant workers, as we saw during covid lockdown.
- Judiciary drags cases for years: The PIL demanding online voting option has been in Indian top courts for more than a decade. However, like all other cases, Indian judiciary is still dragging the case. Once in a while, it asks ECI and GOI for recommendations or to take steps to provide remote voting options but generally do not enforce any timelines.
- Lack of political consensus: The opposition parties are against the current EVM system as they are losing one election after another, and the current system is not working for them. To avoid embarrassment from loss, they are blaming the EVM machines. They have taken a stand that these EVMs are not secure as it can be hacked digitally. They are insisting on going back to paper ballot. Most of these politicians are not technology savvy, to say the least, and hence trying to push India back to the technology of the last century. Anyway, change is never initiated by group of different people and different interests. Any technological change must be driven by election commission / courts or the ruling party.
Conclusion: Everything is moving online, and elections will also have to eventually move online. When banking is online there is no reason why voting cannot be online. During demonetization, government overnight forced all the citizens towards online banking, same should be done for online voting. India is proud of its advancement in technology specially when it comes to software. With United Payment Interface (UPI) and Aadhaar based biometric authentication system, India has proven that India is leader in technology and execution at mass level. Its high time, that the biggest democracy of the world uses its software superpower to modernize and digitize its election technology. Aadhaar biometric database of all citizen would be a great enabler.
It is responsibility of we the citizen to ensure we get our right to vote online. We need to create pressure on the government and the ECI through courts and our vote. Let’s make it clear to the political parties, that we will vote against any party which denies us our right to vote and our right to vote online.