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The Election Commission of India is moving on the road to integrate ICTs in the Indian Electoral process, this article takes a look at the technical side of this journey
In 1977, after analysing the pros and cons of the Electronic Voting (e-Voting) machine vis-a-vis Ballot paper by High Power Committees, the Chief Election Commissioner of India decided to use Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) in elections. The Election Commission of India (ECI) devised and designed the EVMs in collaboration with Bharat Electronics Limited, Bangalore and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd., Hyderabad. In 1980, both the companies (BEL and ECIL) brought out models with a common user interface.
EVMs were first used in 1982 in India in the bye-election of Kerala for a limited number of polling stations. During General Elections 2004, EVMs were used throughout the country for the first time. In keeping with the existing practice, the Commission decided to use these machines in all Assembly Constituencies in the State of Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana.
The Indian EVMs consist of two units; Control Unit and Balloting Unit which are connected to eachother with a five metre cable. The Balloting Unit offers the voter with a button (momentary switch) for each choice of representatives which the voter has to select and press once. The Polling Officer, incharge of the Control Unit manages the ballot button instead of issuing ballot papers. He activates the Balloting Unit after which the voter can cast his vote. The user-friendly EVMs have been designed keeping in mind the fact that even illiterates are able to exercise their right to vote, with ease.
EVM works on batteries, so the voting process is not dependent on the availability of electricity. A single machine can record upto 3,840 votes, vs. only 600 per ballot box. The Commission made elaborate arrangements to receive results directly from the Returning Officers (RO) using GENESYS software.
General Election System (GENESYS) is the software used for capturing data from the CEO (Chief Electoral Officer) offices and district centres all over India during Elections. The software feeds all data at the CEO level and for all the remaining states of the election process. The software also scans candidates affidavits at the RO's offices and stores the data at the appropriate locations on hard disks. These scanned affidavits are sent to the CEO's Office. It also counts the results at RO/CEO level which has been collated through the Internet.
The use of EVMs in elections, was the first movement by the ECI to make elections more transparent and build people's faith in the process. As a part of the comprehensive plan for intensive and extensive use of Information Technology (IT) in Electoral Management and Administration initiated by the Commission in 1997, the ECI launched the website of Election Commission of India in 1998. The website reflects the vision of the Commission moving into the Internet for management for all activities connected with the election process.
In 2004, ECI used one million EVMs to conduct the first Electronic Parliamentary Election. at the same time, ECI also approached the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for countrywide ICT support during the Elections. ECI signed an agreement with NIC to work closely during the election and non-election period.
As per the agreement, all NIC state and district centres are to provide their support throughout the country. All NIC headquarters have access to ECI for cross verification of the result data. NIC has also developed a website http://elections.nic.in that connects to NIC's election results. Under the agreement, NIC is providing various services across the country that can be classified as:
Hosting of State Chief Electoral Officers' websites on NIC web servers: All NIC State and Districts centres are hosting all State CEO's websites some of which were developed by NIC State Centres. These secure servers are also hosting electoral rolls and scanned affidavits of all contesting candidates.
Internet access through dial-up connectivity (ISP Services): The (ROs) uses Remote Access (RAS) connectivity through the NIC district centres as local ISP service to access the ECI web server and update the GENESYS data online from the counting centres. The Internet services on LAN are used as a back up for connectivity.
Data verification and cross-verification: NIC has created an access-controlled website especially for ECI which contains the list of declared results and the details of winners, losers and the vote details.
Video Conferencing (VC): NIC provides Video Conferencing service to Central Production Centre (CPC), Doordarshan, the national television network, during Elections. Field officers of Doordharshan from selected districts are able to share and transfer the video footage of elections by using the videoconferencing. Some CEOs are using videoconferencing facility in providing training programmes for District Information Officer (DIOs) and election officials on the use of GENESYS software and for monitoring the election process.
NIC-Doordarshan (DD) Project: On the days when counting of votes are scheduled, parliamentary and assembly election results are transmitted to NIC web servers through NIC District Centres in providing live coverage of News on Doordarshan.
Apart from the above mentioned initiatives, most of the NIC State Centres have developed standard software to cater to the specific needs of pre-election, polling day and post election activities. These software are implemented at the RO level to meet with administration needs related to information about political parties, voter turnout, election results, etc. Some of the NIC state centres initiatives are given in the next section.
The NIC Orisssa State Unit has designed and implemented a centralised Election Management software which is deployed across 30 districts for formation of polling parties, TA/DA calculation, booth allocation using randomisation, report generation, etc. The software is used in all elections i.e. 3-tier PRI elections and also General Elections to perform the required fuctions, like allotment of booths, TA bills for the polling personnels, attendance sheets, acquittance rolls, etc. Some of the responsibilities are :
The second state after NCT of Delhi to host the electoral polls data on the Internet on its website. NIC Himachal Pradesh State Unit has designed an innovative feature through which candidates can be searched by name in Hindi without knowing the Hindi keyboard layout During elections, the NIC District Centres provide their support in preparation of polling as per ECI guidelines, deploying GENESYS software at counting centres, processing of final result sheets in Form 20 and data transmission for the NIC-DD project.
The State NIC Unit has developed a special software called Election Confidential (ELECON) that helps the District Election Officers, Returning Officers, Election Observers and Election Personnel Cell to carry out their duty effectively whilst maintaining data secrecy and integrity. It also integrates the voter list database (carrying thumb impression and photo of voters) of the constituency with the EVM through appropriate bio-metric interface for on-line validation of the genuineness of the voter during election. NIC has designed, developed and is hosting the State Election Commission's website on its server.
The NIC Unit in Chandigarh helped the Election Commission by creating a software for an electronic random selection of the government staff to be deputed at different polling booths. The software has been developed to monitor the special revision of summary nature of electoral roll, campaigns for Election Photo Identity Cards and training of polling staff on the use of EVMs. NIC has also developed the Chandigarh CEO's website and scanned affidavits of contesting candidates, electoral rolls uploaded on this website. In addition, polling parties formation, two-hourly report on voter turnout, compilation of results, Email support and data transmission are also carried out.
The NIC staff members are also responsible for setting up a software for random picking of electronic voting machines, appointment of micro-observers for poll duties in different booths of different constituencies, to devise a communication plan near all polling booths for establishing communication links with the field staff on the polling day.
Windows-based Election Duty Assignment software was developed by the NIC Haryana State Unit thats helps in Mother Roll and Supplementary Roll processing for Election Department. NIC has launched a helpline service especially for elections through Information Kiosks at the Districts and on telephone for the general public to disseminate electoral rolls information. They have also developed two training courses for the nodal officers of Election Department and DIOs of NIC for carrying out election related activities.
The NIC State Unit at Madhya Pradesh has computerised the process of selecting officers for election duty with the help of a web-based software for real time compilation and dissemination of results for all the parliamentary constituencies in the state. The NIC State Unit has developed the CEO's website (http://www.ceomadhyapradesh.nic.in) that contains all the information related to electoral rolls, elections, online registration, voters' list map, previous voters list, EVMs, electoral roll search and other important information related to pthe state's assembly elections. The NIC Unit is actively participating in the election related activities like, polling team formation, their random deployment in Polling Stations, Counting, Nomination, Transmission of Data and almost all computerisation related activities.
NIC Pondicherry developed and implemented a software for polling personnel allotment using random number generation technique at two stages. Telephone-based helplines have also been established for electoral rolls inquiry.
NIC Goa Unit developed an Election Information System software that contains three modules for posting of staff, calculating voter turnout and counting of votes. The software has been implemented in all the eleven taluka offices of both the districts, the offices of ROs, Observers and CEO by installing computers. The counting centres, CEO and ROs were connected through GoaNET so that the election progress could be monitored online.
Apart from these NIC Units, other state NIC Units like Gujarat, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal have also worked in making the election process transparent and easy for citizens, candidates and others. If we compare the current procedures withthe past elections, the Election Commission has become very ICT-friendly. The ECI has also used GPS-enabled mobile phones to monitor the most sensitive polling stations in the country. The EC has also introduced, for the first time, a web reporting system through which information will be collected on code violations from all districts, online. The system enables collation of information related to missing voters in electoral rolls, violation of model code of conduct, among others.
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