The 2009 Indian elections can be divided into 2 phases - ‘Deciding’ phase and later the ‘Voting’ phase. Deciding phase is when voters evaluate candidates and decides on a candidate to vote for. The Voting phase involves the process of voting - getting their voter’s ID, information on the right polling station and finally casting their vote.
This year’s elections saw a significant change in the polling experience in both the phases for voters. It was the first digital election in India and had many technological advancements.
The 2008 US elections had a significant influence on the Indian political parties. Inspired by Obama’s campaign, all the major Indian parties quickly utilized the power of social networking tools like facebook, YouTube, Twitter apart from having websites for their parties and candidates. They also utilized Television and mobile phones for campaigning. Television was a big way to get the message to illiterate voters in remote areas. These mediums also supported voters to discuss and voice their opinions, concerns in a transparent environment.
Apart from the political parties, corporates also pitched in to help voters decide. Google, along with Hindustan Times, developed a site which helped users to locate their constituencies and polling booths, the candidates from their constituencies, their background (education, criminal record, etc.) and their quotes. This site helped voters be better informed of the issues by making available comparative area-specific development data such as crime rate, literacy rate, and poverty, among other indicators
Tata’s Jaago-re site helped voters register and get their voter’s ID quickly. This was an improvement from the previous years where voters had to wait for hours in endless queues to first register and then get their photos taken. Users also had the flexibility to register anytime on the website, and were provided the details where they needed to get their voter’s ID.
Voters were categorized by Part number (polling booth) and Serial Number (individual). Voters could find the exact polling room through this information
Finally, the electronic voting machine was very easy to use. The design was simple with the candidate's name, party symbol and an arrow pointing to it and a button next to it in a row. The one touch interface fared better than stamping on the paper, folding it and putting it in the ballot box as previous years. Immediately, the EVM was locked until the polling officer unlocked it for the next voter.
The EVMs assured voters that their votes were counted with better accuracy than manually counting the papers, which was more prone to human errors.
Overall, the digital process was simpler compared to the previous election. One can also say that this was a environment-friendly election with less use of paper. Hopefully, the EVMs can be reused or recycled.
The next election can further simplify the voting process and enhance the voting experience:
- Provide a biometric voter’s ID, which can be scanned and quickly registers the voter at the polling station. This will also prevent misuse as it can read the fingerprint. It can also quickly bring the help information if a voter went to the wrong polling station. This can be similar to the passports and visas issued by few countries.
- Computerize the process of finding the voter’s polling booths at the venue. A lot of people were unable to find their names and did not know where to go as the polling stations did not have computers to quickly find out (esp the place I voted)
- Provide facilities for voters who are traveling or living in a different city or abroad to vote online
- Allow rural voters (with no access to internet) to send questions, concerns to party candidates via SMS