IT and Elections

'Telecoms: I.T and Elections'

By: Dr. T Hanuman Chowdary

(August 1999)

The Election Commission has ordered that the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh shall not have meetings with District officials using audio conference i.e (tele-conferencing) on the telecom network. Tele-conferencing is far less expensive than if the district officials are called to Hyderabad or any other place. The Election Commission has not banned the Chief Minister holding conferences with District officials by calling them to any place. Is there any sense in ruling that a conference requiring physical bodies is permissible but not having them on a telecom network? It appears that either the Election Commission is ignorant as to what tele-conferencing is or is prejudiced or is simply appeasing some quarters.

Election Commission has also banned advertising on the electronic media - various TV Channels and presumably Radio also by political parties. This is again senseless. The essence of democracy is public information and debate. Electors must have information so that they can weigh the relevant merits of contending candidates. Going to a meeting, transported in trucks like cattle is far more expensive, inconvenient and is just a thamasha organized by political parties. On the other hand, listeners of Radio and viewers of TV can be in their own places and without any special preparation or any expense, listen to what the politicians and political parties are saying.

This is the best use that electronic media and information technology can be put. Indeed, we must look forward to a situation where all political meetings and rallies in the open are banned as they are expensive and a nuisance to the public and are the cause of mounting election expenses. Meetings should be only under a roof which would mean that only the interested and understanding would gather there. Radio and TV media can be assigned for about 10 hours a day say, ten days in advance of the elections, to the candidates and political parties for putting forth their views and engaging in discussions and debates. Citizens can query them by calling them on telephone from anywhere and such calls may be paid for by the State. If this type of electioneering using information technology and the electronic media is adopted, much of the need for election expenses will decline and therewith the black money, that is in a variety of ways accumulated and spent for elections. Elections have become expensive because of the fashionable practice of political parties staging huge rallies to which the least informed persons are collected by paying them for a trip to the place of the rallies. The payment includes food and drink and entertainment and pleasures.

The Election Commission is unfortunately conducting itself not in a very enlightened way but in a prejudiced and reactionary manner. We should hope that after the elections, the intelligent among politicians and parties will prevail to see that information technology is used to the largest extent to cut down on election expenses including the preparatory time for elections.

Even for voting and counting and for the declaration of results, Information Technology can be used most effectively and efficiently. Every eligible voter should be required to register himself on proof of his residence, age, citizenship and identity. Enumeration should be given up. Registration should be by using computers. The elector should be photographed, and his photo stored in the digital memory of a computer. A computer- generated identity card giving his photo, the constituency number, his address, his date of birth, parents etc, details could be given then and there. If at the place of registration, there are representatives of political parties they could challenge the bonafides of the person wanting to register such objections that may be disclosed of in a judicial manner. This procedure prevents enumeration of bogus voters. This can also prevent multiple registrations if the computers at various places used for registration are inter-linked and verification for duplication catered to in the software. On election day electors should be required to go to the booths where PCs are kept. The voter can show his identity and he can be instructed as to how to register his vote. When once his vote is cast, the computers should reject a second time voting by him. It shall be sufficient if computers in about half a dozen adjacent constituencies are linked together to avoid multiple voting by the same voter. When once voting is closed in the next few hours the result could be declared. To try out this technology elections for a Zilla Parishad or a by -election for an Assembly seat may be taken up. The Election Commission should take up this responsibility and not look to the government. It would then be doing a great service to cleanse the Indian election system of many corruptions.

In further improvement it should be possible for a bonafide voter to vote from any place in India. He should be able putting the constituency number and the name of the candidate he is voting for when he keys in his registered voter number he should be in front of a camera. The computer may compare the photo already recorded against the voter registration number and the voter on view before the camera. If they match the green light can come and the voter can press the button for the candidate, he wants to be elected.

- Dr. T H Chowdary

August 1999