Saturday, August 29, 2015

Providing the right to vote for non-residents Indians

An issue that has been discussed a few times before on this site is the problem with allowing non-resident Indians to vote in elections. Just earlier this year, it was mandated that remote e-voting be provided to non-resident Indians so that they could exercise their right to vote. Even though the promise has been made, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before a proper system is in place to accommodate remote e-voting for Indians who are living and working abroad.

While concerns like these can be just as applicable for so many other countries around the world, it is particularly profound for the world's largest democracy. A great number of India's citizens are indeed living and working abroad, but they still deserve the right to have their voice heard in terms of India's political affairs. The political happenings in India still have a direct impact on their daily lives for a myriad of different reasons.

For the southwestern state of Kerala, discussions are ongoing as to how e-voting can be enabled in a fair, just and secure manner for non-resident Keralites (NRKs). This could apply not only to the people of Kerala who are living and working in other countries around the world, but also those who are simply living and working in another area in India.

The local government in Kerala has begun working with Technology Based Incubators (TBI) to design and configure an online voting system that is fool-proof and secure. One of the largest challenges that they face is how they can reliably verify the identity of Keralites who have settled overseas. This is a common concern for online voting and the IT experts are saying that the creation of a verifiable database is the major first step. This database could include biometric data like iris scans. The goal is to avoid “possible voting irregularities” as much as possible.

The IT firm has also recommended that the government of Kerala can work closely with Indian embassies, non-governmental organizations or international airports in order to facilitate the remote e-voting for non-resident Keralites.

As with any other political issue, e-voting for non-resident Keralites has its opposition too. The State Election Commission has indicated that introducing an e-ballot or any other form of e-voting within the limited timeframe ahead of the upcoming local elections “was not feasible.” Instead, NRKs would be provided with the ability to vote through their respective local body constituencies. Officials have stated that converting the candidate listing to a digital format in the next two months “was not practical.”

However, even if the introduction of e-voting is “not feasible” for the next elections, steps should be taken so that it is feasible for the elections to follow. Systems can be developed, tested and audited well ahead of the elections following this next one. It is oftentimes not feasible or viable for NRKs to vote in person, as currently must be the case for this upcoming election.

There are technical, non-technical and administrative issues involved in the creation, distribution, collection and tabulation of electronic ballots. But these challenges and issues must be addressed and overcome to provide non-resident Keralites with adequate access to their right to vote.