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Election Commission's Remote Voting Pitch: Good on Paper, Gruelling in Reality

EC claims this move would benefit millions of voters. But it is bound to come with equal number of challenges.

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Politics
4 min read
Election Commission's Remote Voting Pitch: Good on Paper, Gruelling in Reality
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Have you moved cities for work? How about getting to vote in your home constituency during the elections without having to travel all the way back? What if a polling booth is set up in your city with a customised EVM? The Election Commission of India (EC) wants to do just that.

The EC on Monday held a session with political parties in Delhi where it demonstrated the remote EVMs (RVMs) that can help 'domestic migrants' to vote for elections in their home constituencies remotely.

But before one begins to cheer this interesting attempt by the poll body, like many on social media have in the past few days, it's necessary to zoom in to the fineprint of the proposed process to realise how the idea might be good only on paper so far.

Prima facie, the EC's concept is clear. In a country like India, where domestic migration is a common phenomenon, especially from the rural to urban belts, most migrants do not wish to change their voting constituency, considering it to be a 'temporary migration.' As a result, millions end up not voting when polls are conducted in their home states.

However, the move to benefit millions of voters, as the EC claims, is bound to come with equal number of challenges — technical, administrative, and constitutional — right on the drawing board.

Here are some of the key practical challenges that the EC is yet to figure out, but first, how does one define a domestic migrant.

Election Commission's Remote Voting Pitch: Good on Paper, Gruelling in Reality

  1. 1. Who is a Domestic Migrant?

    Many political parties have pointed out the ambiguity surrounding the term 'domestic migrants', a question which the poll body has invited suggestions from the parties for.

    "However, domestic migrant/ internal migrant does not form a uniquely identifiable and countable class in the existing norms and standard definition. There is no central database available for migration within the country for the purpose as required for the matter under discussion. The Registrar General of India, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, and the National Sample Survey Organisation lay different meanings to the term “migrant”," the EC said.

    To define 'a domestic migrant', the EC is looking for answers on certain aspects:

    • The duration of being away from the home constituency and absence on poll day

    • The purpose behind the migration (education, profession, marriage, etc)

    • The factors for the retention of the voter's original registration at home constituency depend on

    • How many domestic migrants can be allowed to register themselves as so and for how many elections. Will they have to register separately for a state election and the Lok Sabha election?

    Expand
  2. 2. Why Can't The Existing 'Remote Voting' Techniques Be Applied?

    The EC said that before floating the RVM pitch, it did consider other remote voting options – internet voting, proxy voting, early voting, and postal ballot.

    The EC said that it formed a committee in 2016 to look at the issue of migrant voters, a report on which was submitted in November that year.

    "In the report, while various solutions for the migrant voters were considered, the Committee, however, did not recommend any of these methods for various reasons," the EC said.

    However, the EC has given no clarification of the said reasons behind not exploring the expansion of any of these facilities.

    Expand
  3. 3. How Will Implementation of the MCC be Ensured?

    The EC is yet to specify "remoteness." Will the remoteness be decided according to relocation to another constituency, district, or state? The EC has claimed that 85 per cent of domestic migrants migrate within the state.

    If there is a statewide Assembly election, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) will be in force automatically.

    Consider the following scenario: If there is a bypoll in a constituency in Mumbai for a registered voter, say voter 'X', and 'X' has moved to Pune for professional purposes, the MCC is only applicable in the constituency in Mumbai. If 'X' registers themselves as a remote voter, how will the EC ensure no violation of MCC in their constituency in Pune?

    Expand
  4. 4. What Will Be the Criteria to Set Up Remote Polling Booths?

    The EC plans to execute remote voting by setting up remote polling booths where the voters register. However, the criteria to set up a remote polling booth and their structure is yet unclear.

    The EC is still deliberating on several aspects:

    • Minimum number of remote voters necessary for a remote polling booth to be set up in remote territory or region

    • The number of multi-constituency remote EVMs to be set there

    • Assigning polling agents for the remote booths

    • Booth representatives of parties of the state where elections are taking place

    • The number of booths to be set up in any given state

    Expand
  5. 5. Will the Remote EVMs be Launched Anytime Soon?

    Considering the number of challenges that the EC itself has listed out, and the subsequent ones that shall arise in the processes to come, the proposal is clearly at a nascent stage, even if the EC has claimed to be "ready to pilot" it.

    Even before starting to define migrant voters, it will have to be decided who or which ministry/body identifies and enumerates 'domestic migrants'. After the identification and clarity on the processes, establishing a timeline to overcome the administrative, constitutional, and technological challenges to achieve the desired output will be an ardous journey.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Who is a Domestic Migrant?

Many political parties have pointed out the ambiguity surrounding the term 'domestic migrants', a question which the poll body has invited suggestions from the parties for.

"However, domestic migrant/ internal migrant does not form a uniquely identifiable and countable class in the existing norms and standard definition. There is no central database available for migration within the country for the purpose as required for the matter under discussion. The Registrar General of India, the Ministry of Labour and Employment, and the National Sample Survey Organisation lay different meanings to the term “migrant”," the EC said.

To define 'a domestic migrant', the EC is looking for answers on certain aspects:

  • The duration of being away from the home constituency and absence on poll day

  • The purpose behind the migration (education, profession, marriage, etc)

  • The factors for the retention of the voter's original registration at home constituency depend on

  • How many domestic migrants can be allowed to register themselves as so and for how many elections. Will they have to register separately for a state election and the Lok Sabha election?

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Why Can't The Existing 'Remote Voting' Techniques Be Applied?

The EC said that before floating the RVM pitch, it did consider other remote voting options – internet voting, proxy voting, early voting, and postal ballot.

The EC said that it formed a committee in 2016 to look at the issue of migrant voters, a report on which was submitted in November that year.

"In the report, while various solutions for the migrant voters were considered, the Committee, however, did not recommend any of these methods for various reasons," the EC said.

However, the EC has given no clarification of the said reasons behind not exploring the expansion of any of these facilities.

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How Will Implementation of the MCC be Ensured?

The EC is yet to specify "remoteness." Will the remoteness be decided according to relocation to another constituency, district, or state? The EC has claimed that 85 per cent of domestic migrants migrate within the state.

If there is a statewide Assembly election, the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) will be in force automatically.

Consider the following scenario: If there is a bypoll in a constituency in Mumbai for a registered voter, say voter 'X', and 'X' has moved to Pune for professional purposes, the MCC is only applicable in the constituency in Mumbai. If 'X' registers themselves as a remote voter, how will the EC ensure no violation of MCC in their constituency in Pune?

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What Will Be the Criteria to Set Up Remote Polling Booths?

The EC plans to execute remote voting by setting up remote polling booths where the voters register. However, the criteria to set up a remote polling booth and their structure is yet unclear.

The EC is still deliberating on several aspects:

  • Minimum number of remote voters necessary for a remote polling booth to be set up in remote territory or region

  • The number of multi-constituency remote EVMs to be set there

  • Assigning polling agents for the remote booths

  • Booth representatives of parties of the state where elections are taking place

  • The number of booths to be set up in any given state

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Will the Remote EVMs be Launched Anytime Soon?

Considering the number of challenges that the EC itself has listed out, and the subsequent ones that shall arise in the processes to come, the proposal is clearly at a nascent stage, even if the EC has claimed to be "ready to pilot" it.

Even before starting to define migrant voters, it will have to be decided who or which ministry/body identifies and enumerates 'domestic migrants'. After the identification and clarity on the processes, establishing a timeline to overcome the administrative, constitutional, and technological challenges to achieve the desired output will be an ardous journey.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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