It’s election season in India and that means only one thing; that for a change, the country’s collective consciousness is not engrossed in Bollywood or cricket. Everyone, from your local rickshaw-puller to your boss, is busy debating who’ll be the last man (or woman) standing in this desi game of thrones. As the contestants battle the sweltering heat of May and each other, the voters in India have a more pressing worry to fight against. In the largest democracy of the world, the questions around transparency and accountability have never been more concerning than in recent years, plagued as they have been with mounting allegations of corruption, increasing instances of mud-slinging and the unearthing of the shameful Cambridge Analytica scandal. Could technology be the answer to some of these concerns? The possibilities seem intriguing.
I was particularly enthused to see Satya Nadella unveil a new offering in Microsoft’s “Defending Democracy” programme. At the Build 2019 developer conference held recently, the CEO of Microsoft presented to the world a kit named “ElectionGuard” SDK, meant to allow voters to track how their vote is being recorded, stored and counted all the way till the end of the election process. Nadella’s announcement is aimed primarily at the US Presidential Elections in 2020, and its GitHub version is due to go live only in a few months. Even so, I don’t see why such a solution cannot one day be integrated into the Indian election process to reduce opacity and make it more accountable.
This Microsoft offering is designed to be compatible with existing forms of election hardware and even paper ballot in some cases. Using the software solution, voters can view details of candidates from their constituency and even make their choice online so that a scannable QR code can be printed out and and scanned at the voting booth. Afterwards, the voters can track their vote the entire way, to make sure it remains incorruptible through the entirety of the election process. The end-to-end verification ensures the sanctity of democracy by seeing to the integrity of voting.
This is hardly the first instance of using technology to streamline voting. The US state Virginia has already carried out a successful implementation of voting via mobile phones using blockchain technology and plans to reuse it during the Presidential Elections of 2020. Just like blockchain technology is used for tracking the movement of raw materials, goods and services along the supply chain, it can also be used to build a private network where the vote cast by an elector constitutes an immutable form of data recorded onto the blockchain. After it has been recorded, the vote can then be tracked till the end of counting to make sure it has not been manipulated in any way.
In a country such as India, where the allegations of rigged elections are as numerous as the beads of sweat trickling down our faces on a May afternoon, use of technology seems to be the most promising way to make sure that elections can be transparent and truly in keeping with the essence of our Constitution. The three most important things that Indians strive for and politicians promise are the holy trinity of essentials: “roti-kapda-makaan”, or food, clothing and shelter. Considering that a plethora of mobile apps and the proliferation of cheap internet access have together put all three of these at the tip of our fingers, we wonder why voting should not walk the same path as well. Today, we can order food online and have it delivered in half an hour, we can order clothes to our homes, try them on and keep or send them back; when we need a place to stay, we can get on hotel booking apps and brokerage service websites to find what we are looking for. Clearly, all our essentials are now online, at least for a vast majority of the urban youth. So why should voting stay far behind?
After all, when we cast our vote, we are selecting a representative who will make sure we can access essentials and amenities easily. Considering technology has already permeated the layer of essentials for everyday living, the natural consequence should be to apply its benefits to India’s prized democratic procedure. Will we then see Nadella’s announcement find its way into the hands of Indian voters? I’d like to hope so!
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