Ballot vs Online Voting: Understanding the Conundrums
Voting as an exercise is one with a confusing importance. It seems immensely futile at an individual level but its implications as a whole on the organization or society earns magnanimous proportions. Suffragette is a right demanded in all organizations of democratic nature, but how, when & who exercises this right depends on much more on the system of casting votes rather than our ideology or allegiance to the contesting parties in the elections. Ballot voting is the most widely used system of casting votes since the inception of systemized elections. The onset of digitization in every walk of life inevitably led to conceptualization and eventual execution of the electronic voting system. Despite having obvious advantages over the ballot, with regards to ease of conducting elections to privacy & speed of the election procedure, the system in most of the organizations, whether local or international, remains decidedly analog. Among Nations, only Estonia has digitized its major elections and adopted online voting. India has resorted to electronic Ballot Voting in its efforts to speed up the election process but remains apprehensive about adopting Online voting, despite being one of the countries with highest Internet usage.
In 2015, a report from the Digital Democracy Commission, set up by John Brecon, recommended that by 2020 people should have the option of voting online. NIT Rourkela, being a leading technical institute of the nation seemed only too prudent when it decided to switch to ballot voting for HMC Elections in the current academic year. The electorate in NITR comprises of highly engaged and focussed individuals facing an acute shortage of time due to academic, professional & personal engagements. What they are in constant touch with, is electronic media for every minuscule task and hence the decision of online voting seemed the wisest to embrace. However, eventually, the pros and cons of online voting & ballot voting inevitable as certain issues came to fore. Reporters of Team MM set out to analyze the impacts and opinions of the NITR Populace on the vote-casting systems prevalent in NITR.
Vote-casting in Elections of NITR
Elections for student representatives of Societies under SAC are conducted through online voting through a portal specifically designed for the purpose. From this year onwards, in accordance with the system, the voters could vote for the top two contenders from their constituency. The winners are decided on the basis of a clear majority. Hall Elections, previously conducted through an online portal were shifted to the old ways of ballot casting due to issues of non-accountability prevailing because of online vote casting.
STUDENT BODY ELECTIONS AT DIFFERENT COLLEGES
IIT KGP GYMKHANA ELECTIONS:
Two nights before the election day, a 'Soapbox' (this concept has been implemented for the Convener Elections’17 at NITR) is put up behind the Old Gymkhana, a popular hangout zone on the campus. The SOP, or Statement of Purpose, is a unique concept. Each candidate is given five minutes to speak in a packed court. It is in these crucial minutes that one has to introduce, explain and propagate one's manifesto. The speech is followed by direct cross-questioning by the audience.
A total of 25 polling booths is set up in the common rooms of halls of residence where students go and vote. The booths are digitized and they conduct their elections paperless.
BITS, PILANI “THE STUDENTS’ UNION”:
The Union Council is elected to power at the start of each academic year through a process of closed ballot elections. The Union Council comprises of the President, the General Secretary, the Hostel Representatives of each Bhawan and the Day Scholar Representative.
The elections are preceded by a period of door-to-door campaigning by each of the candidates where they seek to explain their manifesto points to the members of the Student Union.There is an Information Seminar and an Auditorium Debate which happen during the campaigning period.
The elections at BITS, PILANI are considered a lot cleaner and devoid of dirty politics in comparison with other colleges. They have an election panel scrutinizing every candidate, their campaigns and every step of the election process.
Ballot vs Online Voting? NITR Speaks
After interactions and questioning to various competent authorities and a certain fraction of students a pretty clear view was mirrored. The given table depicts a brief comparison.
|ONLINE VOTING||BALLOT VOTING|
| Students can vote at their ease and comfort of their rooms i.e. systemized and fast.|
|A huge mass queuing at a place can prove cumbersome with various parameters like time and space available affecting the turnout.|
|Vote Counting is accelerated by using any digital algorithm.||Counting of the ballot paper can be tedious and aren’t error free.|
|Promotes zone-ism and manipulation of votes are easy by collection of IDs and passwords||Prevents the possibility of tampering votes by giving the discretion of voting to the voters.|
|No voter verification is done.||Voter’s verification is done which is justifiable but hard to implement in a large populace.|
|Saves paper and other expenditure.||Increases the expenditure of the election and wastes paper.|
Recently Team MM conducted a poll amongst the students of NITR wherein the students’ reaction to the introduction of ballot voting was analyzed. Quoting some of the statistics put forth in that analysis;
- 58% of NITR Junta feels that the Paper Ballot system would provide a higher degree of transparency to the entire process of elections in NITR.
- A minimal 15% of the populace feels that the paper ballot system would be too cumbersome and the chances of Malpractice may increase.
- Another 27% of NITR Junta thinks that instead of reintroducing the paper ballot system, the present day portal for voting should be made more secure.
Seeking to get some more clarity on the issue, Team MM spoke with the various stake holders of all the Halls of Residences and tried to gather a general consensus about their opinion on the use of ballots for polling during elections. Here are a few excerpts.
In a conversation with MD Hasim, Sports Secretary, DBA Hall Of Residence was quoted saying:
There were problems with elections ever since the concept was introduced and there will always be problems. The question is how to solve them. The ballot voting during the hall elections completely mattered on the contributions and the campaigning. No zone-ism could have been involved or any kind of vote tampering could be done by a collection of IDs and passwords. Booths could be set up in different hostels monitored by the HMC and the SAC elections can be done smoothly too by ballot voting.
The General Secretary of the K.M.S Hall of Residence Yasmin Kukul, when asked about her opinions about the dilemma of choosing between the ballot and online voting has the following to say.
Online voting might seem hassle free in general, in a system like ours; it often fails to deliver honest results. It sure becomes convenient to vote with just a click of a button and an ID and Password. This also serves as a means for fraudulent contestants to force the innocent voters into giving up their IDs and Passwords. This tilts the system in favor of the nuisance makers and prevents an honest contest. This probably works in a larger, better monitored system but in NITR, the above mentioned scenario has arisen too frequently to be ignored. Thus, I believe that resorting to ballot system would be a more prudent option.
In a conversation with the warden of VS Hall Of Residence, Prof. S.K. Mohanty was quoted saying.
If students feel ballot paper voting is better and free from any manipulation then it will be implemented no matter how strenuous it gets. With ballot paper voting the efforts going into collecting the user IDs and password collection will amount to nothing. Also, the automation cell is thinking of eliminating multiple access to the website from one system ensuring manipulation-free and dignified elections. If ransomware problem can be solved then this problem is not comparable.
The SAC’s Perspective:
The basic vision and highlight of the SAC election guidelines are being compromised. The zone-ism that is eating away all the credibility of the elections can be effectively removed with the ballot system. However, ballot voting has been proved to be tiresome and tedious in the recent hall elections. Besides, the number of votes counted was a lot less than the total number of boarders. When the whole world around us is digitizing, this is the need of the hour to broaden our minds and bring specific changes in the voting process and scrutinize the whole event to curb zone-ism which is dividing the students into hostile parties & bring credibility to the election procedure. Hacking, Phishing or even forcible acquisition of sensitive information like ID & Passwords of the electorate is the major hindrance in making online voting a credible, accountable & anonymous procedure, all key elements in making an election truly democratic. Proposing to help students by setting up voting hubs can also hamper privacy while voting and lead to voting under influence. Passing on ID & Passwords even willingly and depriving oneself of the exercise of choosing our own leaders also defeats the purpose of the elections & amounts to the voter being culpable of forgery.
- One efficient idea is to limit the number of votes from a single laptop. The best would be to limit one vote from one MAC address. The automation cell needs to be proposed by a hacking-free plan aiming clean SAC elections.The voting can include an authentication process to avoid any forgery while casting vote. The authentication can be done by OTP verification.
- The voting can be enhanced on the digital side by few website tweaks than turning to ballot voting which is very trivial and outdated. Elections are always better because of "Student Empowerment". Every student can demand their needs. It is his/her right because s/he has voted for the candidate. It is similar to the Indian Government. A government is elected by the people, it is the government of the people and it works for the people. Similar work is expected from the post holders of SAC, who irrespective of their zones need to work together for the betterment of the institute and the junta.
- The introduction of SOP at NITR this year will help increase the interaction of the candidates with the junta and making the whole election process a lot more legitimate, dignified and intellectual. At least on the bright side of the penumbra, the voters get to know about the candidate, his contribution to the college, his manifesto and agenda. The only step to overcome is the manipulation of votes.
Team MM hopes for a clean SAC & Hall elections in future with new proposals and changes lined up for the election process.