Voting is the democratic procedure of choosing a candidate who can represent the general public. In terms of democracy, voting is the best, most authentic, and most salient way of electing a representative. According to CAMBRIDGE DICTIONARY, “Voting is the activity of choosing someone or something in an election”. Voting is a collaborative decision of people to elect an individual who is honest, active, energetic, and able to address the demand of the citizens or people. Voting can be important in terms of democracy since the choice of the people will work for them according to their needs and desires. Democracy depends upon the majority and so does the voting system. Whoever has the favour/majority, will take over the power. The decision of the people is prioritized with the help of voting. The objective of voting is to allow voters to exercise their right to express their choices regarding specific issues.
Generally, the one who has good skills in communication is stable, extravert, conscientious, open, and judgemental; and has a clear chance of getting the vote and favour of the public as people invariably wish to give their important votes to the individual who is capable of solving their concern.
Here, voting can be broadly classified into physical, online, and electronic in terms of tools used for casting votes. (Electronic & Online voting are considered as a single topic in this article)
- Physical Voting: This includes ballot paper, stamps, and other requirements with the need for the physical presence of people in the polling stations.
- Electronic Voting: This system of voting involves biometrics, retinal scans, or any other authentication system for casting votes.
The use of ballot paper for voting has been practiced for a long period. Physical voting is easy and convenient, but the risks of proxy votes and other scams are high in this case. It is too hard for people to manage the paper and stamps which creates high chances of invalid votes. The link may spoil the ballot paper causing problems while counting the votes. These issues are well addressed by the use of electronic or online voting systems.
Generally, the electronic voting system regulates the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) which makes the system of casting votes easier. The electronic Voting machine uses a biometric authentication system for casting votes. In this biometric system, the fingerprints or retinal scans of individuals are identified uniquely. The use of biometrics for identifying the biological traits and characteristics of the individual allows us to enroll and identify millions of voters quickly with no mistakes at all. Particularly, this system of voting is completely a new idea rather to physical voting, which is centuries old. Electronic voting dates back to the 1990s when countries started the concept of electronic voting in their administrative works and functions. Finally, in 2005 Estonia introduced internet voting in their local elections which succeeded and was given priority in their national elections later. Similarly, this system got widespread in Europe, South America, and Asia. Australia started it in 2007 federal elections for blind and low-vision people. Likewise, our neighboring country India had begun its first-ever trial on EVM in Kerala but unfortunately had gone wrong. In 2013 the Indian Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to introduce paper trials for voting machines which was probably a good initiation. The Lok Sabha election 2019 in India was done majorly through electronic voting machines in major states.
In the context of Nepal, electronic voting was used for the first time in 2008 for Constituent Assembly in Kathmandu. This was the first pilot test of electronic voting machines in Kathmandu. But still, Nepal uses ballot paper for local elections which can be considered as the setback for the digital transformation. However, the system that was used then couldn’t sustain long because the voting machines did not have enough buttons to cater to the high number of political parties contesting in Nepal’s elections.
According to THE HIMALAYAN TIMES Report 2019, Nepal’s digital literacy is around 31% which is the major obstacle for such online and digital voting procedures. So far, roughly 40% might have been literate digitally. Eventually, educating people about digital voting and other means may be tough and challenging too. Physical disturbances like carrying ballots, counting them, and different physical procedures for the use of ballot paper preparation can be avoided by this system. Practically, a system of cutting trees for ballot paper can be abstained from this method of voting. This makes people smart with the use of digitalization in their voting techniques. Since everything has its positive and negative aspects, the major pros and cons of e-voting are:
Advantages of Electronic/Online Voting
The process of election is the building block for the development of any nation and has even more importance in countries with unstable political environments. Countries are increasingly switching to electronic voting systems to solve the major issues of traditional ballot paper systems. This process of voting plays an inevitable role in conducting a fair election process. The major pros of this system of voting are,
- The process of e-voting increases accessibility, which supports social inclusion for the people who are specially-abled and others.
- It reduces voter fraud as the biometric system doesn’t allow a single voter to cast the votes multiple times, which reduces the proxy votes.
- This system is efficient as there is greater accuracy and faster tabulation of data. In the Ballot paper voting system, it takes around a month and a half to count votes in Nepal with a large number of election officials, consequently, the huge budget is spent on human resources.
- This system increases security, and provides a convenient and low-cost additions to their security. With the electronic voting machines, Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT) and control unit is fixed for extra security and authentication.
- They offer significant cost savings in the long run. Generally, the EVM machines can be used for 10 years, while regular maintenance needs to be done.
- E-voting is transparent as there are fewer chances of cheating. In the ballot system exchanging ballot papers, destroying ballot papers, etc are done most often in the country with less political stability.
- There are no scopes for invalid votes.
Disadvantages of Electronic/Online Voting
Although E-voting has several advantages its disadvantages cannot be left unseen. Without anonymity and trust this system of voting cannot be successful. Estonia successfully completed first ever online voting back in 2005. At that time, people praised it but later started to criticize it. It’s not as easy as it seems to compare Estonia’s voting with the countries having bigger populations like that USA, China, and India. Even it will be tough for Nepal too as the population is literally high and has an uneven illiterate population too. During the 2005 elections, only 9,317 people voted online which was approximately 1.9% of their overall population. The current population of Estonia is 1.331 million (13 Lakhs) which is why online or e-voting won’t be much difficult for them, but for the countries like Nepal which have got overall population of about 30 million (3 Crores), and India 1.4 billion ( 142 Crores), there will be many struggles for this kind of voting systems. It will be hard to literate every people from the remote area. The rumors about the fraud in voting too appears if people aren’t satisfied with their winning parties or candidates.
- This system can be easily attacked by hackers and is prone to be tampered with. That’s why most developed nations don’t give preference to using EVMs.
- To be safe from this, a secure security system needs to be set up which will increase the cost of voting, making it an expensive form of voting.
- It is harder to deploy in remote or rural areas. There are some the places in Nepal where the people are deprived of electricity to the date. This makes voting difficult in those areas of Nepal.
- There may be a possible failure in the safety of biometric infrastructure. Also, the government or election commissions must be able to accommodate the changes to the biometrics over time.
- In a country like Nepal, where a multiparty democratic system is followed, it is not easier to set all those political parties and independent leaders in the EVM. For instance, Nepal has almost 200+ parties including independent leaders, which makes it hard for the Election Commission to register all those parties and leaders in the EVM.
A few of these major issues may point the finger toward the system of EVM to be approached in the voting systems of Nepal and many other nations.
Recently, in the Uttar Pradesh State Elections in India, the BJP won by a historic record-breaking margin of 325 seats. This has put forward the issues and rumors of EVM machines not being trustworthy. A country like Nepal has good prospects for EVMs and Online Voting systems in developed cities or states. However, it isn’t possible in rural areas. Further security systems need to be applied for the proper use of EVMs and regular maintenance needs to be done. Nepal has been hampered by political instability for so long. Electronic and Online voting doesn’t facilitate fraud which increases transparency and accountability and develops voters’ trust. This system can eliminate the barrier caused by physical voting. Similarly, ‘Block-Chain technology can be used to minimize risks of hacking and fraud in EVMs. In the end, Nepal should adopt EVMs and an Online voting system for fair and transparent elections.
By: Sambhav Gyawali (Science, H1)