EC develops remote voting machine prototype for domestic migrant voters; invites parties for demo

New Delhi: In a major move to increase voter participation, the Election Commission on Thursday said it has developed a prototype of a remote electronic voting machine (RVM) for domestic migrant voters and has invited political parties for a demonstration on January 16.

If implemented after stakeholder consultations, migrant voters do not need to travel to their home districts to exercise their franchise.

The Congress opposed the idea saying the EC should first allay the Opposition's apprehension about misuse of EVMs before extending their application which "would seriously undermine trust" in the electoral system.

Former chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi, however, described the EC's move as an "excellent initiative".

Citing EC's press note, he said the poll panel will do a pilot.

"It is also an excellent idea," he said adding "pilot will show all the problems which the system will come across. All good reforms in EC have come through pilot testing only. I think on the whole, it is a very good step and hopefully there will be a consensus."

Terming counting of votes cast at remote booths and their transmission to the returning officer in other states as a "technological challenge", Election Commission (EC) officials said RVMs will be developed as "a robust, failproof and efficient stand-alone system" based on existing electronic voting machines and will not be connected to the internet.

Based on feedback from various stakeholders and the demonstration of the prototype, the EC will appropriately carry forward the process of implementing remote voting, according to a statement.

The poll panel has also floated a concept note on remote voting and sought the views of political parties on the legal, administrative and technological challenges in implementing it.

The multi-constituency remote EVM, developed by public sector undertaking Electronics Corporation of India Ltd, can handle up to 72 constituencies from a single remote polling booth, the statement issued by the poll watchdog said.

ECIL and Bharat Electronics Ltd are the two PSUs manufacturing the EVMs.

"After focus on youth and urban apathy, remote voting will be a transformational initiative for strengthening participation in electoral democracy," Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar said.

With the objective of finding a technological solution that is credible, accessible and acceptable to all stakeholders, the commission headed by CEC Kumar along with election commissioners Anup Chandra Pandey and Arun Goel "has now 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 -- polling stations outside home constituency, for domestic migrants", the statement said.

The initiative, if implemented, can lead to a "social transformation" for migrants, it said.

"Many a times migrants are reluctant to get themselves enrolled at their place of work for various reasons such as frequently changing residences, not enough social and emotional connect with the issues of area of migration, unwillingness to get their name deleted in an electoral roll of their home or native constituencies as they have permanent residence or property," the poll panel said.

Elaborating on the concept note, the EC said it has invited all eight recognised national and 57 state political parties on January 16 to demonstrate the functioning of the multi-constituency prototype RVM. Members of the commission's Technical Expert Committee will also be present.

The commission has also solicited written views of recognised political parties by January 31 on various related issues, including changes required in legislation, changes in administrative procedures and voting method for domestic migrants.

The concept note also highlights the challenges of defining domestic migrants, enumerating remote voters and implementation of the Model Code of Conduct at remote polling booths in other states.

Ensuring secrecy of voting, facility of polling agents for identification of voters and process and method of remote voting and counting of votes, are among the other issues identified by the note.

The Representation of the People Act, 1950 and 1951, The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, and The Registration of Electors Rules, 1960, will need to be amended to introduce remote voting, the statement said.

While the laws can only be changed by Parliament, the related rules in this case can be tweaked at the level of the law ministry. The number of booths to be set up and their locations also needs to be settled.

The method of remote voting, familiarity of voters with the methods and the RVM technology, counting of votes cast at remote booths and their transmission to the returning officer located in other state or states also requires deliberations.

"Migration-based disenfranchisement", the EC said, is not an option in the age of technological advancement.

The voter turnout in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections was 67.4 per cent and the EC was concerned over the issue of over 30 crore electors not exercising their franchise and also differential voter turnout in various states and union territories, it said.

"It is understood that there are multifarious reasons for a voter not opting to register in a new place of residence, thus missing out on exercising the right to vote. 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," the EC said.

Though there is no central database available for migration within the country, the analysis of available data in the public domain points to work, marriage and education-related migration as important components of domestic migration.

"Out-migration" is predominant among the rural population in overall domestic migration and around 85 per cent of the internal migration is within states, the commission noted.

"However, domestic migrant/ internal migrant does not form a uniquely identifiable and countable class in the existing norms and standard definition. There is no central database available for migration within the country for the purpose as required for the matter under discussion," it said in the letter to parties.

The Registrar General of India, the Ministry of Labour and Employment and National Sample Survey Organisation lay different meanings to the term "migrant". In the existing multiple meanings of "migrant", periodicity and purpose of "absence" from the place of origin lacks clarity, it said.

According to Census 2011, 45.36 crore Indians (37 per cent) in India are migrants -- now settled in a place different from their previous residence, however, 75 per cent of such migrations are on account of marriages and family related reasons.

The EC has deliberated at length to find inclusive solutions to facilitate electoral participation of migrants across all socio-economic strata and explored 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) and Internet-based voting system, the Commission observed.


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