Remote Electronic Voting Machine
Updated: Feb 10
Recently, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has proposed a new Remote Electronic Voting Machine (RVM), which will allow domestic migrants to vote in national and regional elections. The EC proposed using this in a State Assembly election as a pilot so internal migrants within a state can cast their ballots.
What Is Remote Electronic Voting Machine?
The RVM is an idea that will bring approximately 30 crore electors, currently not exercising their franchise, into the election fold. The inability to vote due to internal migration is one of the prominent reasons to be addressed in order to improve voter turnout and ensure participative elections. Approximately 85 per cent of the internal migration is within the states.
To address this problem, the commission has developed a prototype Multi-Constituency Remote Electronic Voting Machine which can handle multiple constituencies from a single remote polling booth.
RVM is a modified version of the time-tested model of M3 EVMs, to enable voting at remote polling stations.
The commission has been working with the two Public Sector Units, that are manufacturing the existing EVMs – Bharat Electronic Limited (BEL) and Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) to develop a robust, failproof and efficient stand-alone system for remote voting.
The proposed RVM system would enable domestic migrants to cast votes in their home constituencies, from remote locations. These remote voting booths would also cater to voters from multiple constituencies of a state.
How do existing EVMs work?
EVMs started being used on a larger scale in 1992 and since 2000, have been used in all Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections.
There have been three iterations of the machine with improved features, the latest one being the M3 model which was manufactured from 2013 onwards.
Multiple political parties in 2010 approached the ECI to come up with a mechanism that could help verify that the EVM had recorded the vote correctly as intended by the voter.
The ECI, thus, developed along with two Public Sector Undertakings (PSU), the Voter Verified Paper Trail Audit (VVPAT) machine to have a paper trail in the voting process.
The use of VVPATs has become universal in elections since mid-2017.
The current EVM setup has a Balloting Unit (BU) which is connected to the VVPAT printer, both of which are inside the voting compartment.
The VVPAT is connected to the Control Unit (CU), which sits with the Presiding Officer (PO) and totals the number of votes cast, on its display board.
The VVPAT, which is essentially a printing machine, prints a slip with the poll symbol and candidate name, once the voter presses the key on the BU.
This slip is visible to the voter on the VVPAT’s glass screen for seven seconds after which it gets dropped off in a box inside the VVPAT.
Once a vote is cast, the BU becomes inactive till the PO schedules the next vote by enabling it again from the CU.
What are the concerns about EVM?
Concerned civil society organisations, civil servants who have overseen elections, academicians, journalists, former judges, and political figures formed the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE) in 2020, which conducted analysis, recorded depositions from national and international field experts, and released a report in 2021 titled, ‘Is the Indian EVM and VVPAT System Fit for Democratic Elections?’.
The report highlighted the widely recognised ‘democracy principles’ to be adhered to while conducting public elections. It stated that the election process should not only be free and fair but “also be seen to be free and fair”, meaning instead of being told to trust the process the general public should be provided with provable guarantees to facilitate this trust.
The report points out that the details of the EVM design, prototype, software, and hardware verification are not publicly available for technical and independent review, rendering it available only for a black-box analysis, where information about its inner workings is not accessible.
However, the ECI says that, unlike other countries, Indian EVMs are standalone, are not connected to the internet, and have a one-time programmable chip, making tampering through the hardware port or through a Wi-Fi connection impossible.
What are the problems with VVPAT?
Dr. Subhashis Banerjee, the head of IIT-Delhi’s computer science department and a member of the CCE, told The Hindu that for the voting process to be verifiable and correct, it should be machine-independent, or software and hardware independent, meaning, the establishment of its veracity should not depend solely on the assumption that the EVM is correct.
Dr. Banerjee contends that the current VVPAT system is not voter verified in its full sense, meaning, while the voter sees their vote slip behind the VVPAT’s glass for seven seconds, it does not mean they have verified it.
Former IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan, who has overseen both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, notes in his 2021 paper, that the “voter should have full agency to cancel a vote if not satisfied; and that the process to cancel must be simple and should not require the voter to interact with anybody”.
Under the current system, if the voter disputes what they have seen behind the screen, they are allowed a test vote in the presence of an election officer, and if the outcome of the test vote is correct, the voter can be penalised or even prosecuted. Mr. Gopinathan and the CCE report argue that this penalisation is discouraging.
Additionally, the assurance given by the ECI that the EVM-VVPAT system is not connected to any external device has been questioned by former civil servants and multiple studies.
For the VVPAT to be able to generate voting slips, the symbols, names and the sequence of the candidates need to be uploaded on it which is done by connecting it to a laptop.
What are institutional safeguards?
The ECI has said time and again that EVMs and their systems are “robust, secure, and tamper-proof”, owing to the technical and institutional safeguards in place.
The ECI claims that the safeguards, such as the sealing of machines with signatures of polling agents, first-level checks, randomisation of machines, and a series of mock polls before the actual voting, cannot be circumvented.
However, domain experts and former observers have shown that vulnerabilities can arise.
How will RVMs be different?
The EC states in its concept note states that the Multi-Constituency RVM for migrant voting will have the same security system and voting experience as the EVM.
This essentially means that the challenges mentioned above with regard to the current EVMs will persist when it comes to the RVMs.
Besides, the Commission says the RVM can handle multiple constituencies (up to 72) from a single remote polling booth. For this, instead of a fixed ballot paper sheet, the machine has been modified to have an electronic dynamic ballot display which will present different candidate lists corresponding to the constituency number of the voter read by a constituency card reader.
The ECI has added a digital public display unit or a monitor to act as an interface between the constituency card reader and the BU display.
As for the commissioning process of the machine, the electronic ballot will be prepared by the Returning Officers (ROs) of home constituencies of voters and forwarded to the remote RO for uploading in the SLU.
Need of RVM
Decrease in voting turnout - voter turnout in General Elections 2019 was 67.4% and the Election Commission of India is concerned about the issue of over 30 crore electors (1/3rd of registered electors) not exercising their franchise.
Less voter turnout remained the internal migration that took electors away from their home constituencies.
Amongst the many reasons like urban apathy and youth apathy, the inability to vote due to internal migration (domestic migrants) is also one prominent reason contributing to low voter turnout.
The Supreme Court (SC) had in 2015 directed the EC to explore options for remote voting
Increasing Registrations of Unorganised Workers
Challenges regarding RVM
The Multi-Constituency RVM for migrant voting will have the same security system and voting experience as the EVM
RVM will also face logistical and administrative challenges.
These include questions on how voter registration will take place in remote locations, how names will be removed from the electoral rolls of the home constituency, how remote voting applications will be made transparent etc.
Section 60(c) of the Representation of People Act, 1951 empowers the Election Commission of India, in consultation with the government, to notify “classes” of voters who are unable to vote in person at their constituencies owing to their physical or social circumstances. Once notified, the voters are eligible for the ETPB system (Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System).
Voter education is a priority.
We need to look this RVM holistically as part of electoral reforms.
Giving primacy to Elector Photo Identity Card (EPIC) or voters list is to be solved, where voters list many times are associated with computer flaws, names deleted.
NO multiple electoral rolls for assembly elections, MLC election, civic body election, LS election though we have EPIC and can make one national voter list.
Quality of voters & quality of representatives is to be looked upon.