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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Poll commission plans to map migrant population for remote voting

Remote voting refers to a mechanism that allows electors to vote from locations other than polling stations assigned to their registered constituencies.

Written by Anisha Dutta | New Delhi |
Updated: November 12, 2021 7:02:36 am
migrant workers, mapping migrant workers, migrant workers data, Remote voting, ELECTION Commission, Poll panel, Union Law MinistryThe EC has been working with IIT-Madras on using Blockchain technology for remote voting. (Express photo: Ritesh Shukla)

The Election Commission plans to start mapping the population of migrant workers across the country to prepare a roadmap for the introduction of remote voting, The Indian Express has learnt.

According to officials, the poll panel will conduct the exercise to assess the deployment of remote voting machines in the future based on available data on the migrant population. The move is “at a nascent stage”, a government official said, and is part of the poll panel’s reform proposals submitted to the Union Law Ministry.

“A migrant mapping exercise will happen soon, some of it has already started…A large migrant population is only present in a handful of states. We already have an assessment on where a particular constituency’s migrant laborers are located…For example, we know that migrant labourers from a constituency like Sultanpur in UP will be located mostly across 5-7 metropolises,” the official said.

“We are in the process of designing the machine (for remote voting). And the entire process will take a long time,” the official said.

In March, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora had said that the concept of remote voting will see “the light of day” by the 2024 elections.

The EC has been working with IIT-Madras on using Blockchain technology for remote voting. A technical advisory committee has also been formed, which is headed by Prof Rajat Moona, IIT-Bhilai director and former director-general of Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, and comprising experts from IIT-Delhi, IIT-Bombay, IIT-Madras and EC officials. “This (mapping of migrant labourers) is a mammoth exercise, which the administration has to take up and they are contemplating it. One method could be that migrants are identified at the block level…they could do door-to-door surveys since many states do not have any database on migrants. They (EC) have all the electoral rolls and know which constituencies the voters belong to,” Moona said.

“The prototype EVM machine will look like the existing EVM, and we will showcase it to political parties. We have already made two presentations to the EC, and we will be demonstrating it around the first week of December to the EC,” he said, adding that “people will have to apply for the option of remote voting.” According to Moona, the aim is to use the prototype first in a bypoll and then an assembly election once the approvals are in place. “It depends on feedback. We are aiming for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024. There is also a huge cycle of manufacturing that will be needed for around at least a lakh machines. This itself will be a long process. We have not set any deadline,” he said.

According to former CEC S Y Quraishi, the key challenge would be “public acceptability in a country where a simple dummy machine is questioned till today despite the availability of the VVPAT” and to make “political parties agree to it”.

The government official, meanwhile, said the process would be multi-layered and time-consuming. “There are a set of reforms that we have sent to the Law Ministry, including Aadhaar-linking for de-duplication and a single electoral roll. We will test the prototype EVM in a bypoll or in some constituency. It will then go for multiple consultations with the Parliamentary Standing Committee and all political parties and then public comments will also be invited,” the official said.

“There has to be some kind of a voting machine, which has no linkage with the Internet. It has to be an EVM. That would be the concept. We would know if an area has around 1000-1500 voters and will make arrangements accordingly and set up a booth,” the official said. Detailing the prototype, the official said: “We are trying for a machine that has an electronic display to show the ballot paper of the voter’s constituency once they press a number on the screen… Political parties can deploy their agents across these booths and after voting, the machines can be sealed and depending on the states, we can fly them for counting to one location.”

Explained: Why focus on remote voting

Remote voting refers to a mechanism that allows electors to vote from locations other than polling stations assigned to their registered constituencies ? either within the country or even abroad ? as the Election Commission focusses on the importance of “inclusiveness” in elections. With lakhs of voters unable to exercise their franchise on account of geographical barrier due to different reasons, remote voting aims to bridge that gap.

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