NEW DELHI: In his scholarly enunciation of Indian democracy, Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud rightly argued that every form of “elite understanding” of the democratic process that educated people are better decision-makers must be rejected.
Delivering the 8th Dr LM Singhvi Memorial Lecture, the CJI said the concept of universal adult franchise was linked to the idea of participatory democracy and individuals, whom the society has “despised” as being uneducated, have shown tremendous political acumen and awareness of local problems, which even the educated may not understand.
Complimenting the Election Commission of India for its voter outreach campaigns on multiple occasions, including setting up polling booths for a single voter, he, however, sought its attention to the plight of migrant workers.
“Most migrant workers leave their hometowns and have to migrate to different cities, different states and different corners of the country in search of livelihood for themselves and their families. They are most often unable to effectively cast their vote in their constituency,” he said.
Realising that this militated against its motto that ‘No voter be left behind’, the EC had formed a ‘Committee of Officers on Domestic Migrants’, which recommended (in 2016) internet voting, proxy voting, early voting and postal ballots for migrant workers.
These were rejected due to concerns like lack of secrecy of the vote, the lack of sanctity of one person one vote principle, issues of accessibility, etc. Ultimately, a technological solution was proposed which allows voters to vote remotely, in a safe and controlled environment.
BEL, ECIL developers
Remote EVMs were developed by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL). They are based on standalone, nonnetworked systems, allowing voters from multiple constituencies to vote using the same machine. They will be set up in remote locations outside the state under similar conditions as current polling booths.
DY Chandrachud Chief Justice of India
These remote EVMs will work as a single Remote Ballot Unit (RBU) to cater to multiple constituencies by using a ‘dynamic ballot display board’ instead of the usually printed paper ballot sheet on normal EVMs.
Ballot Unit Overlay Display (BUOD) will show the requisite candidates based on the constituency number read on the voter’s Constituency card, which can be read by a barcode scanning system.
The voting process will start after verifying a voter’s’ identity. His 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) and the voter will then vote and each vote will be stored constituency-wise in the control unit.
The voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) system is expected to work along the same lines as the new technology.
The system has issues, some of which the EC has itself acknowledged. Resolving these issues will require wider consultations with various legal and political stakeholders. That’s why it has invited all recognised national and state political parties to demonstrate the functioning of the REVM and has asked for their written views.
Global historical context to remote voting
The first use of external voting appears to have been put in place by the Roman Emperor Augustus, who is said to have invented a new kind of suffrage under which the members of the local senate in 28 newly established colonies cast votes for candidates for the city offices of Rome and sent them under seal to Rome for the day of the elections—an act which was undoubtedly based on political rather than democratic motives.
In more recent times, the earliest known use of external voting took place in 1862, when Wisconsin became the first of a number of US states which enacted provisions to allow absentee voting by soldiers fighting in the Union army during the Civil War. (The franchise was defined at state level in the USA.) Political contention was from the beginning a major factor: Republicans backed external voting legislation as they believed that soldiers were likely to support Republican President Abraham Lincoln, while Democrats sympathetic to peace moves and the cause of the Confederacy opposed it.
New Zealand in 1890
Outside the military context, New Zealand introduced absentee voting for seafarers in 1890, and Australia adopted it in 1902, although under operating arrangements which made its use outside Australia practically impossible.
Many more people were enlisted into armed forces during World War I (1914–8) than in previous conflicts. In the United Kingdom (UK), the political demand for a voice for those doing the fighting led in 1918 to the introduction of absentee voting for military personnel, conducted by proxy. New Zealand gave the vote to all military personnel, not just those over the then voting age of 21, during the period of the war.
Canada provides more early examples of the influence of political factors in the introduction and form of external voting. Postal voting for military electors on active service was agreed at federal level in 1915: the Unionist government believed that Canadians on active military service would be likely supporters.
Before the federal election which followed in 1917, the military franchise was extended. In addition, the military voter could choose the electoral district where the vote would be counted— failing which the political party chosen by the voter could do so after the results of the civilian voting in-country were known!
Another Canadian example of the influence of political factors was seen in the province of British Columbia, which enabled military personnel overseas to vote in 1916 in referendums on women’s suffrage and on the introduction of the prohibition of alcohol. While the referendum on the vote for women passed easily, the result of the referendum on prohibition was very close, and the votes of overseas soldiers were critical to the rejection of the proposition.
Following allegations of malpractice by the supporters of prohibition, a legislative commission of inquiry recommended that most of the overseas votes be disallowed. This recommendation was subsequently passed into law, changing the result of the referendum, and prohibition was then enacted.
(Excerpts from ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, world’s largest online community and repository of electoral knowledge. ACE was created as the Administration and Cost of Elections project at the United Nations in 1998 by International IDEA, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs)
Leave a Reply