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EC, IIT-Madras join hands to develop new technology for voting

The Election Commission has collaborated with IIT Madras to work on a new technology that will allow electors to vote from far away cities without going to the designated polling station of their respective constituencies, a senior poll panel official has said.

EC, IIT-M join hands to develop new technology for voting
PTI New Delhi February 16, 2020 16:44 IST
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The Election Commission has collaborated with IIT Madras to work on a new technology that will allow electors to vote from far away cities without going to the designated polling station of their respective constituencies, a senior poll panel official has said. The project is at present in the research and development stage with an aim to develop a prototype, another official said.

Explaining the 'blockchain' technology involved in the project, Senior Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena said the concept is a "two-way electronic voting system, in a controlled environment, on white-listed IP devices on dedicated internet lines, enabled with biometric devices and a web camera".

He, however, made it clear that voters will have to reach a designated venue during a pre-decided period of time to be able to use this facility. It does not mean voting from home, Saxena explained, which is "anytime-anywhere-any device" and would require some more time and technological advancement.

Explaining the technicalities, the Senior Deputy Election Commissioner told PTI that the "two-way blockchain remote voting" process would involve voter identification and authorisation using a multi-layered IT-enabled system working on the EC's e-Governance award-winning Electoral Registration Officer Network (ERO Net) using biometrics and web cameras.

After a voter's identity is established by the system, a blockchain-enabled personalised e-ballot paper (Smart Contract) will be generated.

When the vote is cast (Smart Contract executed), the ballot would be securely encrypted and a blockchain hashtag (#) will be generated. This hashtag notification would be sent to various stakeholders, in this case--the candidates and political parties, the official said.

The encrypted remote votes so cast would once again be validated at the pre-counting stage to ensure that they have neither been decrypted, nor tampered with or replaced.

"Suppose there is a Lok Sabha election and a Chennai voter is in Delhi. Instead of returning to vote in his or her constituency or missing out on voting, the voter can reach a predesignated spot set up by the EC, say in Connaught Place, in a particular time window and can cast his vote," Saxena said.

He said such voters may have to apply in advance to their returning officers to exercise the option.

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Another top EC functionary, who refused to get quoted, said at present it is only a research and development project. If the technology is found to be "okay", then only after stakeholder consultations and changes in the election laws and rules, it will be tried in actual conditions, he said.

There have been demands from various parties that the Election Commission should ensure that migrant workers who miss out on voting as they cannot afford going home during elections to exercise their franchise should be allowed to vote for their constituency from the city they are working in.

A bill to allow proxy voting for overseas Indians had lapsed following the dissolution of the previous Lok Sabha.

The Law Ministry had also recently tweaked election rules to allow One Way Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS), enabling service voters consisting of personnel belonging to the armed forces, central paramilitary forces and central government officers deployed at Indian missions abroad, to get their postal ballots electronically. They have to fill up the ballot papers and post them back.

During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the ETPBS system helped such service voters in participating overwhelmingly in the polls, with the turnout of almost 62 per cent which used to be dismally low in single digits earlier. 

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