Random Thoughts
D Dhanuraj
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Elections are the true representation of a democracy and in recent times has attracted more international attention than ever. In India, elections are not only the biggest political exercise, but also a festival in its own. Thousands of crores of rupees are spent on this mega exercise. An independent Election Commission (EC) has earned the respect of voters back home and of an international audience over the years. The EC has been entrusted with the monitoring, regulation and conduct of elections in India since Independence, and has done a fair and decent job so far. While ruling parties are voted out of power on several occasions, the EC has never been in the line of fire, a reflection of their truly professional methods of conduct.

The Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) is one of the EC's main contributions. Built by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), the EVM caught the attention of the voters over the last decade. Although there are controversies surrounding the tampering of these machines, the concept and idea is a befitting model for a country that seeks to be a global leader in engineering. In my opinion, even before the cellular revolution in India caught the whole world with awe, EVMs brought impromptu silence to electioneering; otherwise juggled by goons of esoteric political parties. Elections are on in Bihar and local government polls in Kerala. The year 2011 will witness assembly elections in larger states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Although EVMs are a contentious issue in Tamil Nadu, the Election Commission will definitely clarify, before the elections, the technical problems involved. EVMs have changed the way elections take place in our country; highly evident in the areas of expenditure (and violence). However, there is huge scope for improvement. Lesser participation in elections is increasingly taking the democratic process backwards. Lesser voter turnout indirectly helps in the increase of manipulation at poll booths and gives immense scope for bogus voting. It was noted in previous elections that voters' lists were not updated, and as a result, eligible voters did not get a chance to take part in the polls. It is quite surprising that our IT majors have not been utilised for this process at the national level, except for promotional campaigns like Jaago Re.

One method to eliminate this chaos is by connecting the voting machine to a large database of voters. Most states have electronic copies of their voters' lists. A system needs to be formulated where this database is connected to the EVMs. If such a mechanism is in place, when a voter goes to the polling booth, the officer in charge can calls his/her name from the voter list, and then use indelible ink to mark his/her option. This will help solve numerous polling problems, especially bogus voting. A simple query can help identify the voter's identity from the online list. Once the voting is complete, the online database can provide all information regarding the voter and his place of vote. This will also help in transferring voters from one polling booth to another, in the case of address changes. This could gradually be integrated with an online registry of voters.

India is known as the largest democracy in the world for its sheer number of voters. Unfortunately, out of the existing 714 million voters, only 59.7 per cent exercised their franchise in the previous general elections; an alarming figure. It is, thus, imperative that the Government introduces various mechanisms to increase voter turnout, like the one mentioned above.

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