Digital India arrived in 1982 with the deployment of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). In the last two decades extensive automation/ digitisation has been implemented in several customer/consumer facing services like banking, e-commerce, tax returns, stock trading, mutual fund transactions and many more.

Unified Payment Interface (UPI) which powers the interbank transactions through mobile, as also mobile electronic wallets like Paytm, PhonePe, etc., is a unique first-of-its-kind network in the world. UPI represents not only the digital progress but is also testimony to the robust and secure network that enables delivery of all these services.

So ‘online voting’ is a natural progression. Online voting, in simple terms, should be similar to submitting an ‘online feedback’ survey. Customer receives a web link on the smartphone which opens a webpage and the customer marks and submits. But casting a vote is governed by law at every stage. How can the online process meet the requirements under election rules?

Nominations: Presently, candidate nominations and related documents are filed physically before Election Commission (EC) officials. This should be changed over to online filing with applicable identity and validation checks. Considering the success of e-filing platforms under income tax, corporate laws and GST this changeover should not pose challenges.

Polling booths: The existing field infrastructure of polling booths, EVMs, duty personnel, security and logistics will no longer be required once the voting becomes online. So the role of presiding officers and other EC officials on poll duty may have to be redefined to align to virtual monitoring/supervision. Limited count of election booths may still be needed due to slower adoption of new system as also for those who specifically opt for EVM voting.

Voter list: New voter registration process should continue as at present wherein Aadhaar is submitted as proof of ID. The change required is Aadhaar and voter ID should be linked so that the ID of the voter can be verified electronically through Aadhaar database and the registered mobile. While for the new voter registrations this process will be seamless, for the existing voters the linkage and confirmations thereof by the voter has to be a separate initiative by government, if required with feasible regulatory changes. Since the voting will be online and ID validation will be through mobile, a voter can cast his vote from anywhere in the world on the date of polling.

Voting: On the polling date every voter should receive on his/her registered mobile by SMS a web link to the voting site. A voter on clicking the link should receive one OTP that will provide access to the voting page. After selecting the candidate and SUBMIT action a second OTP should be input to confirm/save the vote cast. So the voter will receive the second OTP SMS with an appropriate text (i.e., name and symbol of candidate chosen) of the vote cast. These two steps will correspond to the current process of physical identification of voter and verification of vote cast with Voter Verification Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT).

As per voting rules, physical record of VVPAT is required to be maintained. So that should be ensured in the online process by printing centrally the second confirmation SMS at select locations. System controls should be built in to ensure OTP for access is delivered only once to an Aadhaar holder and the voting is recorded only once for every access. So a second voting by a voter is prevented. Preset system reports for voting recorded should be generated and results declared as per election calendar.

‘Secrecy of vote’ clause is fundamental to election process. So restricted access to system data and segregation of database of voters from voting records should be put in place. Also, data trails like mobile number and OTP should be deleted from system records on completion of voting.

The bigger risk is with respect to the Aadhaar holders who are not alive and not updated on the voter rolls. Checks should be put in place to validate, before elections, with verified Aadhaar database of institutions like LIC, Government, EPF as also conduct door-to-door surveys to update the voter list.

The writer is a chartered accountant