Excitement, pain on voting day

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Pic courtesy: Vijay Prakash

My alarm goes off at six, and I roll out of bed excited because today is the first time I get to cast my vote. Two weeks ago, I applied for a voter’s id. My father had assured me that I would get mine soon because elections were around the corner. Sure enough, I got mine three days before the elections, in sharp contrast to friends and neighbours for whom it had taken months when they had applied. Since we had plans to go to our hometown (Nagamangala, Mandya district), we started for the polling booth at 7 AM. Along the way, a number of strangers called out to us and said things like, “Vote for Party X”, “Number Y” (in reference to the candidate’s serial number in the voting machine), and “We don’t care about the party. Vote for person Z”. We just nodded at each and every one of them and finally made it to the polling booth.

I don’t know how the Election Commission chooses its locations for people to vote, but our polling booth is an anganwadi that has two buildings: building 1 and 2. The funny thing is that the building that had roman numeral 2 painted on it was booth one and the other was booth 1. I was a little annoyed about the misinformation and lack of proper planning, but little did I know that I would be baffled by what the rest of the day had in store for me. There were only about five people waiting in line, so we joined the line behind them. In a few minutes, I was in front of the line, but I stayed there for five minutes. That’s when I sensed something was fishy. After waiting another five minutes, the queue totaled around 40 people. All of them grew restless, and an elderly man finally stepped forward and asked what was going on.

We were informed that the voting machine had stopped working, and the person who would fix it was on his way. After another restless fifteen minutes of waiting, he still hadn’t showed up, and half the people had left the queue. Afraid that we would not make in time to our hometown if we waited here much longer, we asked the security guard how long it would take once the man arrived. “Half an hour”, came the reply. We were caught in a serious situation. Should we wait to vote, at the cost of losing time for other important commitments, or should leave to our hometown, at the cost of our vote? Finally, we decided to do the latter because it was of a higher priority.

While going back home, everyone on the streets was talking about how candidate X was giving Rs. 500 to passersby down the road, and candidate Y was doing the same in another location. Some said that they had gone there, but no such thing was going on, while others insisted they keep changing locations for safety. One candidate finally showed up near one of the voting slip writing centres, and suddenly, a police van pulled up nearby and seven officers in uniform came out. “Someone’s alerted the police”, “Let’s get out of here”, “They’ll leave in some time” were the words that people hushed into each other’s ears as the group of loiterers slowly started to disperse.

A few minutes after we reached home, we got news that the EVM had been fixed, so we quickly went back and joined the queue. There were about five-six people before us, but suddenly, a dozen others came over from the other booth, cut the queue, and joined into the middle comfortably. When questioned, they were told that they had originally come to booth 2, because that’s where they had gone every time in the past, but when it was their turn to go, they noticed that they all had ‘1’ written on their slips. So they went over to the other booth, only to find that their details weren’t listed in the sheet over there. The presiding officer had informed them that there had been a mistake by the people who are filling out the slips, and so they were sent back to booth 2.

When I had cast my vote and come out, we decided to leave in haste without eating breakfast because of the time we had lost already. We quickly packed our bags and headed out. On our way to the bus stop, there was a huge crowd and a lot of commotion near the desks we had passed by earlier. An argument had broken out between some candidates and the police, and they were screaming at the top of their lungs at each other, while other officers tried to clear the area of curious passersby who stopped to watch what was going on. We were already running late, so we didn’t stop to learn more about what was going on.

We weren’t surprised to see an unusually large crowd at Navrang bus station. After all, thousands of people had to go to their native places to participate in the elections because that’s where they are registered. The first two buses that came were packed, and they didn’t even stop to pick up more customers. That was understandable, but what was yet to come was totally unexpected. A few Hassan buses arrived, but all the seats were taken, and so was all the available standing room. A good half of the commuters standing on the road needed to go to places that are on the way to Hassan, but the conductor would only let in people who wanted to go all the way to Hassan, so as to maximise ticket sales with the smallest crowd possible.

This happened once again, and once again, and yet again! 1500 BMTC buses and 3800 KSTRC buses. Those are the numbers of buses deployed for election duty to manage the huge number of commuters who would need to travel between Bangalore and their hometowns to exercise their franchise, but even that was insufficient. Of the buses that did stop at Navrang, only some of them were willing to pick up passengers who’d get off at stops in the middle. Whoever was behind the planning of the re-routing of busses has done a poor job at both planning and execution. I have to give credit, however, to the intelligent idea of deploying some AC buses too. People who were desperate got on to the AC buses after a little hesitation upon hearing the ridiculously high fares. A normal KSRTC bus would charge a little over 100 rupees from Navrang to Yediyur (not the Yediyur in Bangalore), but the conductor of the AC bus going to Yediyur asked a passenger for Rs. 480! After waiting for an hour with no luck, we dropped our plans and returned home.

We dropped our bags, and with a huge sigh of disbelief, sank into our beds to take some rest and change our plans.

While we were fussing about how unfortunate we had been to have our trip cancelled, we switched on the news and learned that there were thousands of others who were stranded without public transport. Some people were willing to pay for a ticket all the way to Hassan though they had get off at their stop much before that. Others got into cabs or cars heading in that direction, whose drivers took advantage of the situation, demanding up to thrice the fare it would have cost to go by bus.

So many couldn’t perform their duty – voting, without paying a high price!

1 Comment

  1. All these inconveniences can be avoided if only Election Commission implements ‘ONLINE VOTING or E-VOTING’ to help voters to exercise their franchise from the convenience of their homes or work place or with the help of even internet parlors or through smart phones that have become ubiquitous. Here is a paper sent to Chief Election Commissioner of India:
    Vote-online voting

    Sub: “ONLINE VOTING – VOTE FROM WHERE YOU ARE” – SUGGESTION

    In order to overcome any complaints about the existing system of voting, I give below a suggestion to the ECI for kind consideration and implementation with due diligence, checks and balances and with reference to the various provisions contained in Peoples Representation Act, Election Rules, Constitution of India.

    While I was in Govt.of India service (retired in 2003 from Indian Audit and Accounts Department, Bengaluru), I have rendered service to the Election Commission as Presiding Officer in a number of Lok Sabha, Assembly and Local Bodies elections.

    SUGGESTION: Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trial (VVPAT) attachments have become highly controversial; there are allegations of malfunctioning, hacking, mishandling, etc. Following headlines in print media explain the concerns expressed :
    /EVMs – Are they really tamper-proof?/
    /EVMs have been hacked and even if a voter presses any button, vote goes to a particular party/
    /How can BJP get a thumping majority in UP Legislative Assembly Election 2017 where its base was not so good earlier?/
    /Election Commission introduces Voters Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) to ensure secrecy and transparency
    /Election Official transferred when during demonstration the EVM/VVPATs printed only BJPs sign in paper trails, so, VVPATs can also be engineered to favor one party/
    /Opposition parties meet President and express concern about EVMs/
    /Election Commission seeks approximately Rs.3174 crore money for procuring VVPATs etc., for next elections /
    /Even during 2009 Election Commission had expressed admitted concerns about the working of EVMs in a case filed before the Supreme Court/

    Doubts – whether genuine or politicised?

    Media Reports and reports from ECI itself on malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPATs have created a doubt in the minds of the voter. In these days of high technology intervention in our daily life, like remote control activation of home appliances like owen, fans, geysers, lights to be switched on, etc., a little alteration in the software in the back end operation may make EVMs malfunction. Example, say after about 100 vote depressions that go to the correct party symbol, all depressions thereafter may be programmed to go to a particular party symbol and that party could get an unseen thumping majority. This did happen during demonstration of VVPATs and also during elections held in Karnataka in May 2018 and an Election Official had been transferred immediately.
    Government of India and its constituent States have enabled citizens with identity proofs through cards, e.g., ration , BPL/APL, Aadhaar, Voters ID card, Driving License, Employee, etc., etc. Intention of these cards is to identify a person that he is what he claims to be. During voting also Election Commission directs voters to carry any of the identified cards for purpose of voting. Of all these cards, Aadhaar has proved ubiquitous since it has been designed and developed through high end technological intervention and after due diligence and checks and balances, with concern for data security of citizens, transparency etc. Government of India is in the process of amending the Information Technology Act for educating the user departments about client data security. More than 130 million people have obtained Aadhaar cards on voluntary basis; accepted its linking with their bank accounts for obtaining benefits under various government social welfare schemes.
    Therefore, it is time to innovate and think how we can do elections differently but within the rules, regulations and with minimum amendments to the Peoples Representation Act and other relevant acts and laws of the land .Time has come to implement a complete transparent and accountable technology oriented voting system in India that is doable, economical and sustainable for establishing swach democratic process. According to recent reports, 92 % of people in India possess mobiles. All of them will be happy to exercise their franchise of voting if online voting is enabled in their phones on the day of voting. This means India will have at least 90% voting without much ado.
    Time to implement ‘Online Voting – Vote from where you are”.
    This suggestion is for enabling all registered voters to exercise their franchise from where they are by using information technology/internet enabled 3G/4G gadgets like desktops, laptops, smart phones etc., or internet browsing centers, kiosks, ATMs, Bank branches, Government offices/gram panchayat computers or while on the move with the help of wi-fi or satellite based communication networks in urban/ rural areas. This system of voting will enable NRIs who are at present voting through postal ballet system since they also have the right to vote and also voters who are compelled to be away from their registered voting booths due to employment or transfer etc., to vote from wherever they are. This “Online Voting” is likely to boost percentage of voting and result in a realistic majority voters rule instead of the first past the post minority voters rule.

    How “Online Voting- Vote from Where you are” works:
    (1) Broad principles of Online Voting are based on our existing Aadhaar card/biometrics and also is akin to withdrawing money from ATMs through debit/credit cards that have protective IT enabled security firewalls. When ATMs can safeguard one’s money, it can safeguard the secrecy of one’s voting also.
    (2) It is suggested that this “Online Voting” may be implemented on a trial basis alongside the present EVMs and VVPATs for comparing and contrasting whether to go back to ballot paper election or give up EVMs and VVPATs.
    (3) Election Commission of India may examine this suggestion and start the process of creating required software with efficient back end and front end security enabled operation systems like shell-level firewalls, public key and private keys, ID and OTP enabled password protected online voting system and send necessary proposals to Government of India to amend required laws and acts relative to votingafter due diligence, checks and balances and accoding to the laws of the land under the Constitution, Peoples Representation Act etc.
    (4) After trail runs and approval in Parliament, data relating to Voter ID cards may be linked to Bio-metric based Aadhaar cards that have been issued to more 90 per cent of Indians and it has become a highly reliable instrument to help establish ones identity.
    (5) With this “Online Voting” system in place, a voter may exercise his franchise from anywhere and everywhere in the world by activating an app designed for the day of voting or by visiting the nearest internet browsing center, Government offices, ATMs, KIOSKs, scheduled bank and Co-operative Banks branches, local bodies offices, gram panchayat offices, designated village accountants or government officials in a particular place etc., where “Online Voting” softwares may be loaded for that day of voting and become automatically dormant after conclusion of voting hours.
    (6) How it works: A registered smart phone voter may, one the day of voting down load an app, specially designed and after establishing his identity, get an OTP and exercise his franchise by clicking in front of the sign/name of the candicate, immediately get an SMS (like VVPATs) on his phone; or if he does not have a phone or is illiterate, enter any of the above centers, (not necessarily take the trouble of visiting a designated booth in a particular constituency) produce necessary ID proof and Aadhaar card details, look into the eye socket attached to a system and / or give finger impressions as the case may be, get green signal to vote, look into the list of candidates of his constituency that appears on the screen with their symbols and either through touch screen or click of the mouse vote to the symbol of his choice.
    (7) Immediately after a voter exercises his franchise, the voting software system will send an SMS to the registered mobile number of the voter that he has voted to a particular symbol in that particular constituency and this SMS is for record of the voter and is akin to messages a customer receives immediately after a banking transaction takes place.
    (8) The touch screen or mouse clicks will automatically be transmitted to the centralized data collection center at the Election Commission office and simultaneously exhibited on giant screens set up for information of people in a transparent and accountable manner. This way all
    (9) Simultaneously, it is also stored in assigned storage systems either in super computers or in cloud computing or in satellite storage system or in such other storage systems anywhere in the world.
    (10) This meta data can be retrieved as and when required under orders of a judicial authority.
    Advantages:
    (a) Requires minimal human intervention, doable, economical, sustainable, transparent and accountable.
    (b) Hacking will be next to impossible due to the speed with which data transfer takes place and enough firewalls protect any such transmission.
    (c) Huge investments involved in procurement of gadgets like EVMs/VVPATs, storage, security related expenditures etc., transportation of men and machines to set up booths, risks involved, booth capturing or EVM capturing etc., can be avoided.
    (d) Instantaneous results will be available to the entire nation.
    (e) Data stored will be accurate and details thereof will be available for future references of all Government departments for planning projects etc.
    (f) Voters can have the freedom to vote from where they are without the hassle of travelling to particular booths and NRIs, even beggars who possess Voter ID/ Aadhaar cards can vote from where they are.
    (g) Duplicate voting or proxy voting will be completely eliminated.
    (h) This hassle-free “Online Voting – Vote from where you are” is expected to boost the percentage of voting and help in establishing majority voters rule in the greatest living democracy in the world – India.
    Yours faithfully,
    Vasanthkumar Mysoremath (IAAD Retd),
    World Bank Honored Innovator, Social Activist & Environmentalist, Consumer Activist, Convener, Anti-Tobacco Forum and Hon.Adviser, Cancer Patients Aid Association, ex-Member, JnNURMCommittee on Solid Waste Management and Sanitation Cell of Mysore City Corporation, No.3835/3, II Cross, Umar Khayam Road, Tilak nagar, Mandi Mohalla, Mysuru-570001 Mob: 9845950440

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