Bhuwan's Ramblings

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Electoral reforms needed in India...

The ongoing general elections in India have exposed the urgent need for electoral reforms. Agreed, that managing this democratic exercise for more than 700 million voters is a mammoth undertaking, but, the situation can be vastly improved if new ideas and policies are implemented. Here are my thoughts on some such reforms.

First, India should start early voting, where individuals can cast their vote at certain pre-determined locations a few days before the actual polling day. Since, these places would be few in number, security arrangements could be better managed and the people would have more options on when they can cast their vote. This would ease the pressure and the hype for the final voting day. This way, both the election officials and the security forces can better optimize their resources.

Second, we should allow absentee voting for everybody, and not just military personnel. This would allow a large number of voters who are currently away from their constituencies to vote. This would also include people outside the country and can also be used by people who are not willing to go to the polling station because of health, time, or safety reasons. The process of collecting and recording absentee ballots can be automated by using scanning technologies available today. Voting using the internet can also be researched in this regard.

Third, the feasibility of using mobile polling stations should be studied, especially for rural areas with low population. This can provide a safer and manageable way to allow people to cast their votes in less populous regions of the country without having to travel long distances in unfriendly weather conditions. Modern technology can allow tracking of such vehicles with GPS systems and a direct connection to satellites for uninterrupted communication.

In addition to these, I envision more radical reforms in the coming years like, a “none of the above” choice on the ballot and a central database of country’s electorate to allow for “anywhere” voting.

If every eligible voter is finger printed and his/her data including a picture is linked to the finger print in a central database, then with modified EVMs (EVMs with a capability to read fingerprints) a voter would be able to vote from anywhere in the country. Although this may be initially expensive, it would make the voting process easier, faster and most importantly transparent. In fact, implementation of other reforms like early, absentee or online voting would be easier once such a system is in place.