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THE CONTEXT: Underlining the problems faced by domestic migrants who are facing difficulties in exercising their right to vote, the Election commission of India has developed a prototype for the Remote Voting Machine(RVM), which aims to facilitate voting for domestic migrants across India and invited political parties for demonstration of the machines. This article will analyze RVM, its benefits, issues and migrant issues and nature of political engagement on this issue.
WHAT IS RVM?
EC has come up with a prototype Remote Voting Machine (RVM), which is a modified version of the existing Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). It was developed with the assistance of Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL).Like Regular EVMs, RVMs are also standalone, non-networked voting machines, they do not have any network interface and can’t be connected to any network, which makes any remote manipulation of EVMs impossible. It would allow domestic migrants to electronically cast a vote for elections in their home state from the state that they currently reside in.
It will consist of the following parts, which are proposed to work together to allow a voter to cast their vote remotely:
- Remote Control Unit (RCU): It is similar to the existing Control Unit, except that the RCU can store the Constituency-wise result of a total number of votes for each candidate.
- Remote Ballot Unit (RBU): It is the voting unit but includes an electronic dynamic display instead of a fixed ballot paper sheet. The RBU dynamically displays the list of candidates for the selected constituency.
- Public Display: Apart from the digital ballot paper, the system will also include a public display, and an external display to show the list of the candidates for the selection constituency.
- RVVPAT: It is a modified version of VVPAT with the ability to store and print names of constituencies and the image of candidates.
- Remote Symbol Loading unit (RSLU): It is to capture details of the candidates, like names and symbols from various constituencies, from the computer system of the home returning officer.
- Constituency Card Reader (CCR): It will be used in the system to select the desired constituency. It is a barcode reader which reads the constituency number of a voter coming to the remote polling booth.
- Public display control unit (PDCU): It is the interface between CCR, Public display and RBU. After getting the constituency number read by the CCR, it displays the list of candidates for that constituency both on the RBU and the public display.
EXTENT OF MIGRANT WORKERS
- As per census 2011, there are more than 450 million migrants amounting to 37% of the population. Given the normal growth in the demographic patterns in India, this number has already increased to more than 580 million now.
- Apart from that, according to NSSO and micro studies, the number of short-term/seasonal migrants is almost 200 to 250 million.
- Because of severe political marginalization of migrants due to bureaucratic obstacles has led to the phenomenon of ‘de-facto disenfranchisement’ of migrants and a huge ‘citizenship deficit’ as Dalits, Adivasis, and extremely backward castes form the bulk of the poorer and working sections of migrants in India.
- The analysis of available data in the public domain points to work, marriage, and education-related migration as important components of domestic migration. These migrants are the most exploited and most disenfranchised citizens.
OPTIONS AND ITS BENEFITS
Election Commission has explored several alternative voting methods like two-way physical transit postal ballots, proxy voting, early voting at special early voting centres, one-way or two-way electronic transmission of postal ballots (ETPBS), internet-based voting system etc before landing on the remote EVM mode. ECI has also explored the option of using a modified version of the time-tested model of M3 (Mark 3) EVMs to enable voting at remote polling stations outside home constituencies, for domestic migrants.
Benefits of RVMs:
- Robust system:RVM has been developed as a robust and full proof system which has a very low tendency to fail.
- Increase voter participation:Studies have shown that large metro cities have lower turnout due to ‘missing migrant voters’, and Remote Voting may become a game changer for raising the voter turnout, specially women voter turnout in elections.
- Strengthening electoral democracy:Remote voting solutions may facilitate the participation in elections by specific groups of citizens, including expats, military voters, voters resident in health and care institutions, and prisoners.
- Corruption less: Standalone and not connected to the internet so it can’t be tampered which ensures least corruption as compared to ballot papers and use of VVPAT ensures transparency.
- More accessibility: The introduction of RVM can make voting more accessible to migrant voters which form a large section of the society
- One nation One Voter: Though it is too early to predict but Remote Voting has the potential to turn India into ‘One Nation One Voter’- leap frogging from elite-based democracy to people’s democracy.
PROXY/POSTAL/ONLINE VOTING AND HOW RVM IS BETTER
Proxy Voting: Proxy voting allows a registered elector to delegate his voting rights to a representative he nominates, which was introduced in 2003. Notably, only “classified service voter” serving in the armed forces or paramilitary forces is allowed to avail of these benefits and the proxy, too, must be a registered voter of the same constituency.
Postal Voting: Postal voting involves votes being sent by post. The rights are reserved for people deputed in election duties at places away from his or her constituency, or for armed force personnel, the armed police force of a state serving in another state, ambassadors and high commissioners and their staff. The spouses of the above-mentioned electorate can also enjoy these benefits.
Online Voting: Online voting involves the NRI voter sending an application to the returning officer in person or online. The returning officer will send the ballot electronically. The voter can then register their mandate on the ballot printout and send it back with an attested declaration. The voter will either send the ballot by ordinary post or drop it at an Indian Embassy where it would be segregated and posted.
The above-mentioned voting methods, however is embedded with various lacunae which RVMs seek to resolve :
- Misuse of Hacker: For example, Online voting has the issue of misuse of hackers and viruses, which may rig the election, RVMs can solve this problem as it is a standalone machine.
- Risk of manipulation: Above voting methods have risks of manipulation as another person is casting a vote and there is no guarantee that the proxy will vote for the candidate preferred by original voters, and RVMs allows original voter to cast their own vote without any biasness.
- Violates secrecy: Above mentioned method also violates the secrecy of voting, which RVMs can solve as the original voter need not reveal about his choices.
- Trust Deficiency: Trust deficiency, as in the above cases, proxy voter may not vote as per the wishes of the original voter, which RVMs tend to solve.
- Purchasing of votes: As above method can lead to corrupt practices of purchasing votes by proxy voter, which can compromise the choice of the original voter, and RVMs disallows such corrupt practices to ensure free and fair election.
WHY RVM WAS CHOSEN
TO ADDRESS CONCERN OVER LOW VOTER TURNOUT
- Though voter turnout has increased over the years since the first few general elections after Independence when it hovered around 50%, but still last three Lok Sabha polls have seen an average of one-third of registered voters sit out the elections.
- EC expressed concern over the stagnation in voter turnout. In 2019, 67.40% of the 91.20 crore registered electors voted, slightly higher than 66.44% in 2014. In 2009, the turnout was 58.21%. Voter turnout in General Elections 2019 was 67.4 %.
- The Election Commission of India is concerned about the issue of over 30 crore electors not exercising their franchise and differential voter turnout in various states/UTs and to address this issue, RVM was chosen.
TO ADDRESS THE CHALLENGE OF MIGRATION
- EC concerns over internal voter migration, that is, people moving from the state they were born into another state.
- This intra-state migration, it says, is responsible for low voter turnout in many states.
- Migrant workers, who frequently change residences, are reluctant to get their names enrolled at the places they work, so the existence of remote EVMs can solve this issue permanently.
- So, the concept of RVM is proposed, so that maximum number of migrants can exercise their right to vote.
CHANGES IN RPA 50, 51 AND CONDUCT OF ELECTION RULES
For proper implementation of Remote Voting Machine would entail a host of legal, statutory, administrative, and technological interventions. In this regard, following provisions of The Representation of the People Act, The Conduct of Election Rules will need to be amended to introduce remote voting.
Changes in Representation of People’s Act 1950
- Electoral rolls for parliamentary, Assembly and Council constituencies: There is a need to update electoral rolls at the national level to include migrants.
- Local authorities for the purpose of elections to the state legislative councils: Local authorities which are in duty of election needs to train and upgrade, and for this, there is a need to change in provision.
- No person to be registered in more than one constituency: Here, this provision needs to be changed as a person voting in one residency is not registered over there.
- Meaning of “ordinarily resident”: As the meaning of ordinary resident will change in the context of national and regional levels, it needs to be updated.
- Place of residence: There is a need to update the definition of place of residence and extend its definition.
Changes in Representation of People’s Act 1951
- Administrative machinery for the conduct of elections: There is a need to change in administrative machinery for the conduct of elections.
- Conduct of elections: There will be a change in the manner of conduct of elections as voters will be far away from the site of the actual election.
- Disputes regarding elections: Disputes after the implementation of RVMs can be at the central level, which needs new methods to tackle.
- Manner of voting at elections: The manner by which people vote is going to change drastically, and there is a need of new provisions regarding this.
- Voting machines at elections: New machinery of voting machines are being installed, which will be different from regular EVMs, and for its installation, there is a need to update the provision.
Changes in Conduct of Election Rules
- Identification of electors: Identification of electors will be done at central level rather than just the state level.
- Maintenance of secrecy of voting by electors within polling stations and voting procedure: Secrecy can be at stake due to RVMs, which needs to be taken care of by including new provisions.
- Design of Electronic Voting Machines: There is a need for a new provision to change the design of the electronic voting machine.
- Procedure for voting-by-voting machines: There is a need to upgrade the procedure of voting by new voting machines.
- Preparation of voting machine by the returning Officer: Returning officer need to be upgraded with new powers for the preparation of voting machines by including new provisions.
- Arrangements at the polling station: There is a need to make new arrangements at the polling station in accordance with the new setup of RVMs.
HOW RVMs WILL SOLVE THE VOTING ISSUE
As it is known, the inability to vote due to internal migration (domestic migrants) is one of the prominent reasons to be addressed to improve voter turnout and ensure participative elections. RVMs will solve the issue in the following ways:
The remote voting machine will have an efficient mechanism to address the issue, which is as follows:
- Home Returning Officer will forward the data to the remote RO, and the RO will load all data from the remote constituencies into the Remote Symbol Loading unit
- For remote voting, a remote voter has to pre-register for this facility by applying online or offline during a specified time period. After verification of the details, the voter will be marked as a remote voter in a remote location.
- Special multi-constituency remote voting polling stations will be set up in the places of their current residence. In this way, remote voters can cast their votes.
ABILITY TO HANDLE MULTIPLE CONSTITUENCIES
- To solve the issue, Remote EVM has been developed to handle multiple constituencies at the same time and can handle up to 72 constituencies from a single remote polling booth as compared to EVMs, which are used for voting in a single constituency.
- RVMs do not have paper ballots affixed to it, and instead there will be a digital display of the names and symbols of the candidates, which will change based on the constituency chosen.
REACTION OF POLITICAL PARTIES
The Election commission has asked political parties to suggest issues on how the Model Code of Conduct should be implemented in the remote constituencies, how domestic migrants should be identified and how a secure environment can be provided.
However, various political parties have reacted differently on the issues as follows:
- Congress made a statement on restoring trust in the electoral system as suspicious voting undermines electoral democracy, and it should be ensured that suspicious voting pattern should not extend to multi-constituency remote voting.
- Another reaction from Trinamool Congress came against the Election Commission proposal to remote voting, saying that it was ad hoc, baseless and without logic and stated that EC itself had admitted there was no migrants’ database available, so the shift to remote voting machine is not feasible.
- However, Bharatiya Janata Party has welcomed the initiative of Remote Voting Machine and stated that it believes in inclusive democracy and voting rights for all and that migrant populations need to have their voting rights protected and his move will deepen democracy.
- In case of regional Parties like Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), CPI(M) and CPI, they have agreed to attend the demonstration by Election Commission.
IMPACT ON THE NATURE OF POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT
Though interstate migrants make up to 40% of the population of cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Surat but these are highly disenfranchised segments and make very less political engagement because of following reasons:
- Son of soils concept: ‘Sons of Soil’ challenges the political parties and fears of electoral backlash from constituents continue to deter political parties from extending voting rights to migrants.
- Cumbersome process:Studies point out that the median processing time for new voter registrations is to be 150 days for middle-class Delhi residents and 331 days for the city’s slum residents, this led to less Registration of migrant voters.
- Less voter turnout: As per our TISS study on ‘Inclusive Elections in India” sponsored by Election Commission of India, 60% and 83% of domestic migrants have failed to cast a ballot in at least one national, state, or local election after moving- lowering voter turnout in the destination sites.
- Not emotional connections: Migrants are unwilling to vote at their place of work for various reasons such as not having enough social and emotional connections with the issues of the area of migration, unwillingness to get their names deleted in an electoral roll of their native constituencies as they have permanent residence or property, etc.
IMPACT ON REGIONAL AND NATIONAL PARTIES
Given this historic decision of ECI, it is expected that the electoral salience of interstate migrants is likely to increase in coming decades which will have differential impact on national and regional parties:
- The migrant factor makes a difference to a respondent’s voting choices because migrants are more likely to consider the performance of the national parties than regional parties, even during State elections.
- Regional Political parties will be incentivized to incorporate migrants into formal organizational positions and also encouraged to nominate migrants to run as candidates from migrant-dense constituencies with the coming of RVM.
- National political parties and their regional cohorts are likely to strategically mobilize migrants without jeopardizing their core constituency in the local population with varying degrees of success.
- In a playing field which is far from level, remote voting can theoretically provide an added edge to national parties which are bigger and richer who can campaign across the constituency and beyond to gain more votes.
IDENTITY POLITICS/ WELFARE MEASURES
Since, Migrants form a large group in metro cities, they tend to develop political agenda that are based upon these identities. Political parties in the place also tend to interplay this part and welfare politics comes into the picture.
Few studies were conducted in Delhi to observe the migrant to understand their approach and issues:
- Neelam, a rickshaw puller from Bihar, though, is aware of the on-going election process but is not casting a vote because of financial issues. However, he highlights that few migrants went to vote in their group at local constituency and cost of travelling back and forth and security of jobs taken care by sardar who has close association with political people of village.
- Another migrant named Birju, a daily wage worker, though is well aware of election process refrain from voting as it affects his earning per day and visiting home for voting can cost him financial loss, which he can’t afford.
These examples of reluctance to vote or going to vote by forming groups are often seen in migrant workers.
In this regard, there are some unintended benefits of extending voting rights for migrants in terms of preferences for more ”programmatic welfare politics” and more inter-ethnic tolerance in both the destination and origin places by political parties. Such as example of free distribution of goods and services by political parties and constituency services as political incentives for migrants to vote. Similarly, local and regional parties of their native states often try to lure them with the same as Covid 19 and the example of MGNREGA have also seen a reverse migration.
Workers strive to achieve this in two ways: their political power as voters and their economic power, that is, exchanging cheap labour to support the state’s neoliberal growth project.
Resultantly, migrant labourers negotiate everyday survival to essential services through a network of informal relationships and negotiate a simultaneous relationship between patronage and exploitation. In this way, migrants in the city suffer from double exclusion—legal exclusion due to a lack of non-portability of identity and social exclusion due to their lower social standing, resulting in exploitation, violence, deprivation and indebtedness.
The Election Commission must show greater commitment to maintain citizens’ participation in a democracy, especially given their constraints in voting. It should develop mechanisms so that every citizen can participate in the process of elections, including internal migrants.
CHALLENGES RELATED TO RVMs
- Not uniform class:Migrants are not a uniform and defined class, with fluid identities, locations and situations. In the context of the transience of migration in India, the problem for the EC is to create an inclusive definition of migrants.
- Edge to bigger parties: Remote voting can theoretically provide an added edge to bigger parties and richer candidates who can campaign across the constituency and beyond.
- Technology components: While the EC claims that RVMs are as secure as currently used EVMs, more technological components associated with RVMs can raise more questions on the sanctity of the electoral process.
- Secrecy and Transparency: Enumerating remote voters and implementation of the Model Code of Conduct at remote polling booths in other states is a major concern for ensuring safety and security for maintaining secrecy and transparency in the electoral process.
- Infrastructure:There are issues related to the lack of infrastructure, such as the Facility of polling agents for identification of voters and the process and method of remote voting and counting of votes which needs to be addressed.
- Lack of awareness: It is understood that there are multifarious reasons for a voter not opting to register in a new place of residence and lack of awareness and willingness is prominent among them.
- Low Registration:Very low Registration and turnout rates among urban migrants is one of the major challenges. For instance, in 2014, only 65% of recent migrants to Delhi possessed a voter ID card allowing them to vote in city elections, while the overall average for Delhi residents was 85%.
- Issue related to international implementation of RVMs: For example, Countries such as Estonia and Germany have implemented Remote Voting Machine in their respective elections, however, it has not boosted voter turnout as it is still not easily accessible and reduces incentives for political parties to work for migrants.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Awareness:For better implementation of RVMs, there is a need for creating awareness among remote voters and upgrading digital tools in the voting process to increase accessibility and reach.
- Collaborations and consultation: There is a need for wider consultations with various legal and political stakeholders to receive insights on the concerns of using RVMs for better implementation.
- Strengthen the voting behavior of citizens: However, practice, administration and implementation of the electoral process vary across states but to ensure a participative democracy there is a need to strengthen voting behavior of citizens.
- Learning from international practices: There is current interest among some EU countries and regions to trial internet voting solutions. In this regard, there is need to learn from these countries and how they are tackling the challenges.
THE CONCLUSION: Migration-based disenfranchisement is indeed not an option in the age of technological advancement, and Remote voting Machine is going to be a historic decision in making India a more inclusive, participatory, and vibrant democracy. There is a need for proper implementation of remote voting machines so that migrant voters can as well exercise their franchise.
- Remote voting Machine is a new step in the direction of inclusive democracy. In this regard, analyze its benefits and challenges to ensure the same.
- Critically analyze the effect that remote voting machines can have on the political dynamics of the country with reference to its impact on regional and national parties.