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Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System – Does it Pave the Way for Online Voting?

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How will you feel or think if Election Commission of India (ECI) someday asks you to vote online instead of going out of your home and waiting for your turn in the queue?

Although it may sound far-fetched today, looking at the continuous innovations like Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) and very recent Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) by the ECI, it’s possible that Indians may vote online in coming times.

Indians have already been casting their votes on EVMs since 2004 Lok Sabha elections with the credibility of the voting process largely intact, but for the usual murmurs by those who lose elections and by scientifically crippled conspiracy theorists. To further strengthen the credibility of the process, ECI has introduced VVPAT since Lok Sabha elections of 2019. However, even in the current technology-enabled system, the voters still have to go out and cast their vote.

The question that many forward-thinking citizens have asked is, why can’t the country switch to the more technology-driven voting or online voting in this digital age? Well, the answer to this question is not easy and needs a wider debate in the country.

But what brings hope for such a scenario and boosts the feasibility of online voting in future is the ECI’s track record itself. ECI is continuously bringing more technological innovations to the system. Apart from the general and overseas voters in the country, there is one more class of service voters who are government employees. These service voters are usually not present in their constituencies during the election and have to vote through postal ballot. This process hitherto had included the physical dispatch of postal ballot to service voters who then had to mark their vote and send it back to returning officer through the post.

In the recently concluded Lok Sabha Election of 2019, ECI made this process much easier. The service voters were sent the postal ballots electronically one way to save processing time and resources. This became possible through a dedicated portal www.servicevoter.eci.nic.in, developed by Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) in collaboration with ECI.

ETPBS is a fully secure system with two security layers. The systems like One Time Password (OTP) and Personal Identification Number (PIN) are used to maintain the secrecy of voting and QR code helps in checking the duplication of casted vote.

It is interesting that fewer hassles to service voters resulted in a record turnout of 60.15%, a huge jump from the dismal 4% turnout in 2014. The number of registered service electors increased from 13,27,627 in Lok Sabha elections of 2014 to 18,02,646 in Lok Sabha elections of 2019.

Such positive and encouraging results due to ECI’s continuous innovation signal at least two things. One, more technological solutions will help in increasing the turnout, thus empowering every citizen to be part of the democratic process. Two, ECI is capable of bringing in modernisation even at the scale of online voting.

One can argue that ETPBS is different from an online voting system for general voters. But the fact of the matter remains that ECI has proved its mettle time and again in enabling technology for the world’s largest electoral exercise. It is now for people to debate and discuss whether they really want to go with such a creative modernisation or not.