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Telangana looks at e-voting for civic polls, will be first in country

The IT department has constituted an expert committee, comprising professors from IITs and domain experts, which met Wednesday evening and expressed confidence in developing a foolproof e-voting system.

Written by Rahul V Pisharody | Hyderabad | Updated: October 1, 2020 1:17:55 pm
Telangana State Election Commission has decided to use Face Recognition Technology(FRT) at one polling booth each in all 150 divisions of the GMCH.

Ahead of the elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), which is expected before February 2021, the Telangana State Election Commission(SEC) is exploring the option of e-voting. If things work out according to the plan, it would be for the first time that such a mode of voting will be used in the country.

The SEC has also decided to use Face Recognition Technology(FRT) at one polling booth each in all 150 divisions of the GHMC.

State Election Commissioner C Partha Sarathi confirmed to indianexpress.com that the commission was considering e-voting using blockchain technology as an option for those who cannot visit polling stations, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic situation. “There could be senior citizens who would not be willing to step out to cast their vote owing to the pandemic. Then, we are thinking of disabled persons, too. Also, for scores of poll personnel, we can have online voting instead of postal ballot. We wanted to pilot it and the IT department has shown a lot of interest,” he said.

Partha Sarathi said any registered voter with an internet-enabled smartphone would be able to avail of the option easily.

The SEC has held discussions with the State Information Technology department and its own agency, the Telangana State Technology Services (TSTS), in this regard. The IT department has constituted an expert committee, comprising professors from IITs and domain experts, which met Wednesday evening and expressed confidence in developing a foolproof e-voting system.

According to Partha Sarathi, voters exercising the e-voting option will have to first register themselves with the returning officer. These voters can log into a specific portal during polling hours and choose their preference on an e-ballot paper, which can be accessed only by the returning officer upon logging in.

“After three or four days, when the votes will be counted, the returning officer will log into the portal in the presence of all counting agents. The software will give a tally of votes that will be recorded and signatures of counting agents will be taken,” he added.

THE CHALLENGES

The implementation of online voting is, however, riddled with challenges. From establishing the identity of voters to ensuring the sanctity of the voting process, and also secure storage of votes for some days, the challenges also include taking voters as well as political parties into confidence.

Jayesh Ranjan, the principal secretary to the state government’s ITE&C department, explained: “There are three aspects. Firstly, how do you identify a genuine voter? How can we establish if it is you or someone else voting on your behalf. Secondly, how do you ensure privacy and non-tampering of that vote? Blockchain technology has some solutions. A time-stamp is given and there is a security provided through a blockchain ledger. We will be exploring that. Finally, the counting does not happen instantly but after three to four days of polling, So, how do you store votes for those many days, without security concerns like hacking.”

Partha Sarathi said the Commission is asking itself all the questions that could be raised by the political parties. “Political parties may ask what is the guarantee that no one will tamper with the votes stored in the system.” The implementation of the e-voting at the moment, according to him, depends on two key aspects. “Only if the software is ready and fool-proof, and only if we get the approval of the political parties.”

The commission also believes e-voting can be an option in areas that have traditionally seen lower voter turnout.

Jayesh Ranjan said the IT department will go for a technology solution that will be simple as well as fool-proof. “The technology will be very simple, just like how you make a WhatsApp call or send a message. We have facial recognition technology, blockchain technology, cybersecurity software, identity software, etc. We are looking at the best option. Both voters and political parties should feel confident while using it,” he told indianexpress.com, adding the expert committee has assured the availability of technology to develop the required system.

FRT for authentication of valid voters was first tested on a pilot basis by the Telangana SEC at 10 polling stations in Kompally Municipality in Medchal Malkajgiri district during the urban local body polls held in January earlier this year. This was the first time it was used in any polls across the country.

READ | Telangana municipal polls: Facial recognition app to be used in 10 polling booths on pilot basis

“A few stations in Kompally had used it. We have now taken a decision to use it at one polling booth in each of the 150 wards. It is like the second phase of tech implementation on a wider scale. We have a much-refined version after rectifying the bottlenecks faced last time. It will be perfect this time,” said Partha Sarathi.

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