What is the world’s largest democracy if its citizens do not have equal rights to vote during elections? Taking a step towards strengthening this right, the Supreme Court yesterday granted Indian soldiers the right to vote in the upcoming elections in the constituencies of their posting.
While this is a positive move towards more egalitarian voting rights for defence personnel, the right to vote from their stations is only extended to soldiers stationed in non- conflict areas. Personnel working in active conflict zones will still have to exercise their votes through postal ballots or proxy voting.
The apex court’s rebuttal of the Election Commission’s opposition against letting soldiers vote has also highlighted lapses in the commission’s attempts in ensuring 100% voting in the coming elections. Members of the armed forces of India form a substantial vote bank in this country, just like NRIs and the Internet-savvy youth of the country. However, the Election Commission has done little to address the voting needs of the latter two.
Currently NRIs can only vote in their constituencies, and the EC is considering an arrangement of online voting for NRIs. It is more likely that online voting might become a reality in the next general elections. What is even more frustrating is that the consideration for online voting is only being discussed for NRIs. The EC has not made any statement on the future possibility of online voting for registered voters within India. When India’s elections are estimated to cost a colossal sum of Rs 30,000 crores, an online voting mechanism would certainly help reduce costs substantially.
An estimated 150 million young Indians will vote in this general election. According to a recent study on internal migration patterns in India, nearly 110 million individuals between the ages of 15 to 32 move internally within the country on account of marriage, education or employment. It is difficult to bring these 150 million to polling booths unless the EC adopts a more flexible approach to voting. The commission’s online voter ID registration system has also failed due to system errors and irregularities, leaving applicants feeling frustrated and helpless.
As India is all set to become the second-biggest Internet user by June 2014, the EC could have tapped into this opportunity and could have equipped 243 million Indian netizens the comfort of voting directly from their computers or phones.
Countries like Estonia, Canada, France and Switzerland have successfully tested and implemented internet voting. Estonia became the first country to use Internet voting in 2007 and has been a pioneer in using this technology. All these countries have seen an increase in their online voter base from the time of its inception. In France over 60% of its total voters now choose to vote over the internet than go to the polling booths.
However, the technology around online voting does have drawbacks. While it may be a very convenient and accessible option for voting, it also poses a security risk. This is the main reasons why many countries around the world are apprehensive about adopting online voting. The chances of forgery and multiple voting increase with internet voting. But as this technology evolves, India must adopt online voting as a viable option for the vast voter base on the internet. Drawing inspiration from countries like Estonia and France, the EC can move a step forward in using modern technology and reducing election costs.
The author, Pari Trivedi, tweets at @parispective