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ECI develops Remote EVM to enable remote voting for domestic migrants, read how the proposed system will work

Just like the regular EVMs, RVMs are also standalone, non-networked voting machines, but they can handle elections for up to 72 constituencies and have electronic display instead of fixed paper ballots

To address the issue of low voter turnout due to voters not living in their constituencies due to various reasons like work, study etc, the Election Commission of India has proposed to introduce a remote voting facility for such outstation voters. The ECI has developed a new Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) for remote voting, based on the currently used EVM, and is ready for a pilot project on this.

Stressing the need for such a remote voting system, ECI said that on average, one-third of registered voters do not vote in an election, and it is a matter of grave concern. It said that the Election Commission of India is committed to its goal of ‘No voter to be left behind’.

The ECI has invited all registered political parties for a demonstration of how the proposed Remote Electronic Voting Machine (RVM) will work. The commission has also sought suggestions and feedback from the parties on the issue.

In a statement issued today, the ECI said that inability to vote due to internal migration (domestic migrants) is one of the prominent reasons of lower voting in elections, and it has to be addressed to improve voter turnout and ensure participative elections. According to the statement, soon after assuming office as Chief Election Commissioner, Rajiv Kumar focused his attention on enabling the migrant voters to exercise their franchise from their current place of residence.

However, as such a measure involved a host of issues including egal, statutory, administrative and technological interventions, ECI deliberated on them at length to come up with a solution. After studying various alternatives, the Commission has decided on the Remote Electronic Voting Machine, which is a modified version of the time-tested model of M3 EVM.

Using this RVM, people not living in their constituencies will be able to vote from their current place of living. This modified EVM can handle elections for up to 72 multiple constituencies from a single remote polling booth. “The initiative, if implemented, can lead to a social transformation for the migrants and connect with their roots as many times they are reluctant to get themselves enrolled at their place of work for various reasons such as frequently changing residences, not enough social and emotional connect with the issues of area of migration, unwillingness to get their name deleted in electoral roll of their home/native constituencies as they have permanent residence/property etc,” the ECI statement said.

The Election Commission of India has also distributed a concept note on the RVM among the political partis, which describes the working of the voting machines and the procedure of remote voting.

Just like the regular EVMs, RVMs are also standalone, non-networked voting machines, they do not have any network interface and can’t be connected to any network. It is one of the main security features of the Indian EVMs, as it makes any remote manipulation of EVMs impossible. However, there will be several changes in the RVMs from the EVMs.

While EVMs are used for voting in a single constituency, RVMs can run elections for several constituencies, up to 72. As this means hundreds of candidates in each polling booth, RVMs do not have paper ballots affixed to it. Instead, there will be a digital display of the names and symbols of the candidates, which will change based on the constituency chosen.

A Remote Electronic Voting Machine will consist of the following parts:

  • Remote Control Unit (RCU), which is the same as the existing Control Unit, except that the RCU can store the Constituency wise result of total number of votes for each candidate.
  • Remote Ballot Unit (RBU) which is the voting unit but includes an electronic dynamic display instead of a fixed ballot paper sheet. The RBU dynamically displays the list of candidates for the selected constituency.
  • Apart from the digital ballot paper, the system will also include a public display, an external display to show the list of the candidates for the selection constituency. Both the RBU and the Public Display will show the same list after the constituency number is selected.
  • RVVPAT, which is a modified version of VVPAT with the ability to store and print names of constituencies and the image of candidates.
  • Remote Symbol Loading unit (RSLU) to capture details of the candidates like names and symbols from various constituencies from the computer system of the home returning officer.
  • Constituency Card Reader (CCR) will be used in the system to select the desired constituency. It is a barcode reader which reads the constituency number of a voter coming to the remote polling booth.
  • Public display control unit (PDCU) is the interface between CCR, Public display and RBU. After getting the constituency number read by the CCR, it displays the list of candidates for that constituency both on the RBU and the public display.

The electronic ballot will be an exact replica of the ballot paper used in the home constituency, and it will be based on the ballot paper finalised to be affixed on the EVMs. After finalisation, the home Returning Officer will forward the data to the remote RO, and the RO will load all data from the remote constituencies into the Remote Symbol Loading unit.

Block diagram of Remote Electronic Voting Machine

For remote voting, a remote voter has to pre-register for this facility by applying online or offline during a specified time period. After verification of the details, the voter will be marked as a remote voter in a remote location. Special multi-constituency remote voting polling stations will be set up in the places of their current residence.

On the polling day, when the voter goes to the remote voting station, the presiding officer will scan the relevant constituency card using the CCR, and the system will display the candidates for that constituency on the Public Display Unit and also on the RBU. The voter will then cast the vote on the RBU, in the same manner as voting on regular EVM. The vote is recorded along with the state code, constituency number, and candidate number. The RVVPAT prints the state and constituency codes along with the candidate name, symbol, and serial number.

During counting, the votes in a Remote Control Unit will be counted the same as regular Control Unit votes are counted. The RCU displays the total votes for each Constituency, one by one, in sequential order of candidates in that constituency. The results for each constituency will be sent to the home constituency, where they will be added to the tally of each candidate.

The ECI will demonstrate the working of the Remote Electronic Voting Machine on 16 January 2023 at an event to be held at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. The Commission has invited all recognised 8 National and 57 State Political Parties for the demonstration and discussion, where Technical Expert Committee members will also be present.

The ECI has asked the parties to submit written views by 31 January 2023 on various related issues including changes required in legislation, changes in administrative procedures and voting method/RVM/technology, if any other, for the domestic migrants. Based on the feedback received from the political parties, the Commission will carry forward the process of implementing remote voting method.

While the technical design of the Remote EVM has been prepared by the ECI, there are a host of legal issues that need to be addressed before it can be implemented. Some issues include the definition of migrant voter, definition of remote voting, implementation of model code of conduct in the remote voting station etc.

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Raju Das
Raju Das
Corporate Dropout, Freelance Translator

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