A vote for democracy: Allowing remote voting for migrants a good idea

By: |
December 30, 2020 5:00 AM

The ‘dynamic ballot’ EVM would be a sea-change from migrants getting disenfranchised by economic compulsions—travelling back home, incurring spending and loss of income and, potentially, even employment often forces them to give up their franchise—with each such machines allowing the voters of multiple constituencies.

As per the ET report, 10,000 of these ‘dynamic ballot’ EVMs will serve the purpose, with 5-6 machines at designated ‘remote voting’ centres in a district—cities with a high migrant population will have a higher number of such machines.As per the ET report, 10,000 of these ‘dynamic ballot’ EVMs will serve the purpose, with 5-6 machines at designated ‘remote voting’ centres in a district—cities with a high migrant population will have a higher number of such machines.

Allowing circular migrants—who alternate between their home constituencies and distant places of work—to cast their vote remotely will not only secure their democratic right but also compel the democratic set-up to be more responsive to their needs. The freedom to access the vote has been established through a clutch of Supreme Court judgments to be an inalienable part of Article 19 (1) (a), which guarantees the freedom of expression; however, this freedom, for circular migrants and many other groups, has become restricted by the fact that this right can only be exercised through in-person voting, in the constituency that they are registered. Against such a backdrop, the Election Commission of India (ECI) mulling over—as per a report in The Economic Times (ET)—allowing migrant workers to access their vote through ‘dynamic ballot’ in electronic voting machines (EVMs) is a progressive step. While the EVMs currently have ballot units that list candidates only for a specific constituency, one with a ‘dynamic ballot’ unit will display the contestants of a voter’s home constituency. As per the ET report, 10,000 of these ‘dynamic ballot’ EVMs will serve the purpose, with 5-6 machines at designated ‘remote voting’ centres in a district—cities with a high migrant population will have a higher number of such machines.

The ‘dynamic ballot’ EVM would be a sea-change from migrants getting disenfranchised by economic compulsions—travelling back home, incurring spending and loss of income and, potentially, even employment often forces them to give up their franchise—with each such machines allowing the voters of multiple constituencies. With the pandemic having underscored the need for facilitating remote-access for almost everything—from work to education—enabling remote-voting is only an evolutionary step for democracy. Recognising this, the ECI had set up a technical advisory group to develop a remote voting framework. There will be challenges specific to deployment of technology; remote voting will need a leap in terms of “connectedness” from what the current process allows; EVMs don’t use internet at present to minimise the chances of hacking or manipulation. But, with the various existing safeguards and technological solutions that can be developed, the costs of this risk seem much smaller than tens of lakhs of migrants remaining disenfranchised in effect. To address challenges of voter fraud/verification, integrating Aadhaar-based biometric authentication with the process is something the ECI would do well to consider.

The ECI had backed the extension of Electronically Transmissible Postal Ballots (ETPB) to non-resident Indians—tens of lakhs of whom are eligible to vote but miss out due to the in-person, in-constituency requirement—last month. Allowing remote voting for migrants would also allow them to consolidate as a voter-base and force home-state policymakers and local authorities to take note of their requirements. Given how frequently they find themselves missing from the electoral rolls in their home constituencies, remote voting would ensure that this passive disenfranchisement by the state is also avoided.

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