Digital voting (e-voting) refers to casting and counting votes electronically, adhering to standards established by regulatory bodies to ensure privacy, security and accuracy in the consolidation and tabulation of election results. It assists in transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, mobile phones and internet or through private computer networks. It can be carried out by physical supervision of government representatives or independent electoral authorities i.e., establishing electronic voting machines at polling stations or an alternative way could be undertaken to enable remote and disabled voters to participate on equal terms to cast their vote privately and easily from any location and on any device with Internet access (PC, tablet, smartphone, etc.). Thus, digital voting assures citizens that their votes remain cast-as-intended, recorded-as-cast and counted-as-recorded.
Electronic voting technology minimises manual counting errors, accelerates the speed of the ballot counting and reduces the cost of paying staff to count votes physically thereby leading to accurate and timely publication of results, higher integrity of votes cast and improved election auditability and credibility. Also, it helps increase voter participation by enabling the voters to vote independently from their location hence reducing the serious risk that it would damage the legitimacy of whichever government wins the election by increasing voter turnout. The citizen groups, especially those living abroad or the ones living in rural areas far away from polling stations and the disabled with mobility impairments could better avail the facility of e-voting. It is cost-effective, resulting in operational efficiencies by significantly reducing the costs of organizing, running and closing an election. Mobile voting can cut down the cost by multi-fold, as it was evident by the fact that the conduct of 2019 Lok Sabha elections cost the Indian Government Rs 6500 crore – an expense of Rs. 72 per voter. In contrast, costing-per-vote in digital voting is essentially zero. This will further strengthen democracy of the country by encouraging direct participation of citizens in many of the democratic decision-making processes, which currently is unthinkable in a huge country like India.
But online voting must overcome several significant obstacles before it can be rolled out widely. Some of the demerits include voter ID fraud, a learning curve for users to make them intimate with the user interface, and attempts by hackers to tamper with mobile apps and data and take down the back-end networks. Online voting needs to ensure that the secrecy is maintained both at the time of polling and also when votes are counted. To ascertain whether a voter voted or not is a vital check in digital voting. Further, unlike the current closed systems used for Indian elections, the source code should be made public for scrutiny by experts and hence, in the case of potential security issues and bugs, it would enable quick identification and fixing.
The use of electronic voting in elections remains a belligerent issue in consideration of election fraud. Some countries such as the Netherlands and Germany have refrained from the usage of electrical voting after an unreliable experience. The so-called digital divide would be witnessed as people without internet access and/or the skills to use it are excluded from the service. Thus, equal voting opportunities for people across various social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds would be affected. One cannot neglect the psychological interest of the people i.e., the trust factor. There is insight fear among the voters that their vote could be changed and manipulated during transmission to governmental servers or by a virus on their PCs. Expenses for the installation of an electronic voting system are excessive, making it difficult for some governments to invest. Moreover, no long-term solution is guaranteed.
It might be contemplated that how a vote casted through a cell phone can be deemed as authentic? How end-to-end security and verifiability of digital voting Works? First step is to examine the voter’s credentials and verify via pre-existing or new voting authentication methods. Then, the voters can confirm their selections and to ensure its secrecy all the way throughout transmission and ballot counting, the votes are encrypted before leaving the voters´ devices. Votes received in the ballot box are checked and verified by using the bulletin board, digital signatures and mathematical proofs to ascertain whether the contents of the encrypted votes are valid or not. After the election is closed, the electoral organization digitally shuffles the votes and breaks the correlation between encrypted votes and voters, thereby securely transferring online votes by “mixing”. To decrypt the votes, the electoral body is required to regenerate the election key. Once decryption of the votes is done by the electoral board, these are tallied and secured by an authorized staff to ensure no results are preliminarily published.
What’s the use of technology if one has to physically visit the centres? An Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) is established linking the two units: the control unit and the balloting unit. The control unit of the EVM is for verification of the identity of voters, kept with the presiding officer or the polling officer. The balloting unit is placed within the voting compartment for electors to cast their votes. The polling officer will press the Ballot Button which will enable the voter to forge their vote. Instead of issuing a ballot paper, a list of candidates’ names and/or symbols will be presented on the machine and the voters can press the blue button next to their favoured candidate’s name.
E-Voting upholds the highest security, verifiability and integrity standards. Voter privacy, end-to-end security, election integrity, vote correctness and full verifiability (individual and universal) are assured via advanced cryptographic protocols. In addition to the added approachability and security, operational efficiencies ensue from timely delivery of accurate results and significantly reduced costs. Since the pandemic has paused election activity across several countries on the account of social distancing norms, it’s a good time for all who haven’t adopted yet to move to online voting. To make voting accessible for the greatest number of citizens, we must take the strictures of online voting as a challenge rather than a prohibition. The emerging question is: Can digital voting be more reliable than today’s flawed traditional paper systems? We are technologically advanced to reach the imperative goal of developing secure voting systems running on common mobile devices. If the threat environment is under control, online elections with security safeguards are possible today.
This article is written by Pranjal Ritolia from Shri Ram College of Commerce.