The Election Commission may be busy trying to dispel all doubts over EVMs and VVPATs, but it is also closely monitoring the research on a challenging dream project -- fully electronic internet-based voting, or two-way electronic transmission of ballot, as it is referred to in electoral terminology.
The Centre for Advanced Computing, which is working on the project, is in advanced discussions with EC teams and stakeholder departments of telecom and posts to address key red flags, ensuring vote audit trail and multiple levels of encryption in two-way electronic ballot.
The project was entrusted by EC to C-DAC in mid 2017. Top EC officials said that once successfully tested, it would first be tried at a bye election as a pilot next year after Lok Sabha elections. Depending on how the pilot goes, it would be tried at an assembly election before any large scale plans.
While the successful rollout of one-way electronic transmission of postal ballot for service voters in 2016 has increased EC’s confidence, the two-way transmission is a tall order.
One-way transmission for service voters involves sending a blank postal ballot electronically to the voter. The ballot paper is downloaded, ballot cast and then sent via normal postal service to the returning officer for counting.
Two-way electronic transmission of vote envisages that a registered voter from any location in India -- once his identity is well authenticated -- will be able to cast his vote electronically through a secure encrypted system and the same will reach the designated returning officer for counting.
C-DAC is learnt to have identified 13 major parameters to two-way electronic transmission of vote and these range from voter authentication to the right ballot size for download and scan, layers of encryption, server security, using technological solutions to make sure that the vote is not cast under any coercion and an audit trail that established the voter-vote relationship, and its correct manifestation at the time of counting.
At a time when even the EVM, which has been used so successfully for years now, is being doubted, the biggest challenge in the coming years will be sociopolitical -- that of building consensus and confidence for electronic voting. The technological challenges, however, are hardly minor.
For instance, discussions are on over the authentication of the voter and whether it should be done through an OTP-based approach or biometric based. The first could leave out those without access to mobile phones or good network connections. While biometrics can only work, provided seeding voter cards with Aadhar gets the go-ahead.
Then there is the crucial question of audit trail -- whether the vote cast has reached and counted – and how can the voter verify that. The postal department is closely looking at that and plans to integrate a bar code on the ballot to make it traceable.