E-voting is convenient and may be helpful for certain sections of people. The sections which may benefit from this step are the people who have migrated to other states or NRIs. The NRIs were allowed to be registered as voters in 2010, but they need to come down to India to cast their votes. This is clearly a challenge. Die hard enthusiasts do come down to their constituencies, but same may not apply as a rule for every person.
The issue is whether the law allows e-voting The answer is an emphatic yes. The relevant law which allows e-voting is the Information Technology Act, 2000 (the IT Act). Even other legislations like section 108 of the Companies Act, 2013 allows e-voting by the shareholders. As a matter of fact the provision for e voting in the Companies Act, 2013 is based on the legal regime of creation, authentication and attribution of records which the IT Act stipulates.
A concept like e-voting may be allowed only when it will mirror the polling process. In a nut shell for a proper vote, the voter should be identified and then he should be able to cast his vote. Further, the returning officer should ensure that the person whose name exists in the electoral rolls is the one casting the votes. We may juxtapose this scenario in the electronic form.
We may have a secure portal for e-voting. The portal may allow for the registration of the digital signatures from the voters. Please note that a similar practice is currently being followed by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA). Only a person whose digital signature certificate is registered on the MCA portal is allowed to transact on the MCA website. Please note that digital signature has already been allowed to be used for secure transactions say tax filings or bidding for large infra projects. Further, should the election commission require, specific digital signatures with appropriate encryption may only be used to cast votes. At the instance when the user casts his vote the system may authenticate the digital signature and allow the vote to be polled. Please note that the IT Act identifies a digital signature as an electronic record. Further, the IT Act allows any data reproduced in electronic form, which includes the votes casted by the voter. Therefore, there is no legal bar on e-voting.
The argument which goes against the prospect of e-voting becoming a reality is its technical feasibility. It may be noted that number of voters who will be casting their vote would be substantially large when compared to other sets of people like the shareholders of a company or the companies themselves. Therefore, this is a valid concern. The government may then look for similar measures adopted by it. An instance may again be the MCA website. As on date around 3,00,000 companies have been registered in India. In around September of every year the companies make their annual filings which accounts for heavy internet traffic. The annual filing though not comparable to the votes being polled, reflects that such systems do work. Therefore, the MCA system allows for large volume of internet traffic.
In my humble opinion with appropriate mechanisms the election commission may deploy such measure. However, the difference between the setups i.e. the MCA set up and the e voting is the time when such system may be adopted. Elections are not called everyday whereas MCA allows for e-filing throughout the year. Additionally, internet traffic is also dependent on the volume of data. The election commission may come up with e-voting option which does not take up much space. This will allow easy transfer and storage of data. It is high time the government reposes its trust on our IT engineers who may come up with a solution.
The cost for deploying such a system may be huge. However, the government may allow the same in a phased manner. In the longer run e-voting may be cost efficient as it will not involve a human interface say a returning officer. Further, the election commission may allow e-voting as an option. This option may be given to people whose names are registered in one constituency but are residing elsewhere say the NRIs. Therefore, contrary to what is being feared the number (though enormous) may still be substantially less than what is expected. Hope the government gets its act together and allows more people to participate in the biggest festival of democracy THE ELECTIONS through e-votes.
By Prashant Kumar, Senior Associate at J. Sagar Associates. Views expressed by the author are personal.