The Election Commission of India (ECI) introduced the Remote Electronic Voting Machine (R-EVM) in late 2022 to enhance domestic migrant voting and boost the voter turnout from the 2019 general election, which stood at 67.4%. A recent survey by Lokniti-CSDS in September 2023 targeted 1,017 migrants in Delhi’s slums, consisting of 63% men and 37% women. The survey sought to determine whether the proposed R-EVM system would garner sufficient trust from its intended users, irrespective of legal and logistical challenges raised by political parties.
GS II: Polity and Governance
Dimensions of the Article:
- Overview of Remote EVM (R-EVM)
- Significance of the Migrant Vote
- Concerns and Challenges with Remote Voting for Migrants
- Way Forward for Implementing Remote Voting for Migrants
Overview of Remote EVM (R-EVM)
The “R-EVM” (Remote Electronic Voting Machine) is a proposed system introduced by the Election Commission of India (ECI) to enable domestic migrants to vote in their home constituencies, even if they are residing far from their registered voting location.
Key Features of R-EVM:
- Registration Process:
- Eligible voters interested in using the remote voting facility must register within a specified timeframe. They can do this either online or through offline methods by contacting the Returning Officer (RO) of their home constituency.
- Multi-Constituency Polling Stations:
- Multi-constituency remote polling stations will be established in areas where migrants reside. These stations allow voters from various constituencies to cast their votes from a single location.
- Voting Process:
- Voters visiting the remote polling station will scan their constituency card, which will display the candidates and symbols specific to their home constituency on the R-EVM.
- Security and Functionality:
- R-EVMs incorporate the same security measures as traditional EVMs, providing a secure and familiar voting experience. Electronic ballot displays are used to present candidates and symbols, eliminating the need for paper ballots.
- Multiple Constituencies:
- The R-EVMs have the capability to handle multiple constituencies, accommodating up to 72 constituencies from a single remote polling booth.
- International Examples:
- Some countries, including Estonia, France, Panama, Pakistan, and Armenia, already practice remote voting to allow citizens residing abroad or away from their home constituencies to vote.
Significance of the Migrant Vote:
- Migrants in Delhi predominantly originate from neighboring states, including Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Rajasthan.
- The primary reasons for migration are employment opportunities (58%), followed by family-related factors (18%) and relocation due to marriage (13%).
- A considerable portion of migrants (61%) have resided in Delhi for over five years, indicating a substantial population of long-term migrants.
- Short-term migrants, primarily from Bihar, often come to Delhi for seasonal work.
- Around 53% of migrants have registered as voters in Delhi, while 27% are registered in their respective home states. Migrants tend to participate more actively in national and state-level elections compared to local or panchayat elections.
- Migrants, particularly from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, maintain connections with their home states by returning to vote, especially in local and state assembly elections. Reasons for returning to vote include exercising their fundamental right to vote (40%) and utilizing the election season as an opportunity to visit family (25%).
- 47% of respondents express trust in the proposed remote voting system, while 31% express distrust. Notably, trust levels vary by gender, with men (50%) exhibiting higher levels of trust compared to women (40%). Trust in the system is also higher among individuals with better education.
Concerns and Challenges with Remote Voting for Migrants:
Continuation of Existing Challenges:
- The Multi-Constituency Remote Voting Machine (RVM) will share the same security system and voting experience as traditional Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
- Therefore, challenges and concerns related to EVMs will likely persist with RVMs.
- Remote voting necessitates amendments to existing electoral laws, including The Representation of People’s Act of 1950 and 1951, The Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, and The Registration of Electors Rules, 1960.
- These changes are required to incorporate the new remote voting method into the legal framework.
Redefining “Migrant Voter”:
- The legal framework must redefine the term “migrant voter” and determine whether such voters maintain registration at their original place of residence.
Voter Portability and Residency Definitions:
- Managing voter portability while adhering to legal constructs such as “ordinary residence” and “temporary absence” poses a significant social challenge.
- Defining the extent of remoteness, whether it pertains to being outside a constituency, district, or state, also requires clarification.
Secrecy and Integrity:
- Ensuring the secrecy of voting at remote locations is crucial to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the voting process.
- Preventing voter impersonation is another security concern that must be addressed to ensure the fairness of remote voting.
Logistics and Administration:
- Arranging for polling agents and effectively supervising remote voting stations present logistical and administrative challenges.
- Adequate measures must be in place to oversee the remote voting process.
- Voter familiarity with the technology and interfaces used for remote voting is essential to prevent confusion and errors during the voting process.
- Proper voter education and training are crucial.
Vote Counting Mechanisms:
- Establishing efficient mechanisms for accurately counting votes cast through remote voting is a technological challenge that must be addressed.
- This includes ensuring the accuracy and security of the vote-counting process.
Way Forward for Implementing Remote Voting for Migrants:
- Machine and Technology Independence:
- Ensure that the voting process is verifiable and correct, independent of the voting machine or technology used. The veracity of the process should not solely depend on the assumption that the Remote Electronic Voting Machine (RVM) is error-free. Establish safeguards to address potential discrepancies or issues in the system.
- Voter Agency and Transparency:
- Empower voters by giving them full agency to cancel their vote if they are dissatisfied with the process or their choice. The process to cancel a vote should be simple and should not require the voter to interact with anyone. Transparency in the voting process is essential to build trust.
- Stakeholder Confidence and Acceptability:
- Consider the confidence and acceptability of all stakeholders involved in the electoral system, including voters, political parties, and the election machinery. Address their concerns, seek their feedback, and ensure that the remote voting system is designed to meet their expectations and requirements.
-Source: The Hindu