Thursday, February 16, 2012

India's Elections: What can Others Learn from Them?

Today, we had municipal council elections in Mumbai and Thane. I went out to the polling booth around 9 am, and was out by 9:10, after going through the process of
  • identifying myself (I showed my passport, but a driving licence, election ID card, or a PAN card (income-tax identification) would have done as well; and in later elections, a vast number may vote on the strength of the Unique biometric identification system that is being rolled out on a massive scale)
  • getting the blob of indelible ink on my fingers, so that I cannot vote more than once, and then
  • selecting two candidates - one female and one male, for our municipal ward on an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).
Some observations:
First, the process was super-smooth.
Second, the counting is such a smooth process that oncce the EVMs from all over the ward are assembled in one place, the counting of votes and announcing of results would take a shorter time than it took me to write this piece.
Third, there would be no arguments about the count, even if the difference was in single digits. A welcome change from the ridiculous farce that the Florida count in George W's Presidential election against Al Gore just over a decade ago, in the world's most powerful and tech-savvy democracy. One day, India's super-efficient Election Commission (EC) will probably become a profit centre - taking up outsourced election management deals.
Fourth, the EVMs are a wonder of hardiness and simplicity. Hi-tech, yet low-cost. Easy to configure, easy to understand, they have proved themselves time and again in hugely different climate zones, and have reduced the cost of election management by an order of magnitude, with lesser challenges to election results, and lesser effort and time for counting. EVMs are equipped with software that is deceptively sophisticated - for example, I have read somewhere that the EVM is configured so that at least 15 seconds need to elapse before the next vote is registered and announced by an audible long beep. This makes mass-voting by goons a time-consuming task - if the 15-second limit is breached more than twice in succession, the EVM locks itself up, and can only be unlocked by empowered EC officers.

Lots to learn from India's conduct of that great ritual of democracy, called elections, don't you think?