View from India: General Elections get digital makeover

The forthcoming general elections to the legislative assembly of Karnataka, to be held on May 12 2018, have received a digital push, with the Election Commission of India (ECI) rolling out innovative tech-based initiatives to address target specific groups.

Three main IT-based systems - Samadhan, Suvidha and Sugam - have been unveiled to smooth the election process.

An online Public Grievance Redress System titled Samadhan has been developed for citizens and even political candidates to lodge election-related complaints and suggestions. Besides developing a mobile app, the ECI has also opened out a unified and integrated multi-channel platform, including a website, email, letter, fax, SMS and call centre for communication. Being a dedicated platform, Samadhan’s unique selling point is to ensure that officials need to look into any complaints received and to provide a solution within a specified timeframe.

Suvidha is the software that provides a single-window clearance for all the permission required by different constituencies. The process happens online and the time period prescribed for its execution is 24 hours. 

Sugam is a web-based vehicle management system that uses technology to issue requisition letters for vehicles. The software captures details of the vehicle along with the mobile number and bank details of the owner and driver. It also monitors the transfer and movement of vehicles from one district to the other, which means the logistics of vehicle transfer from district to district is taken care of in an efficient manner.

Besides Samadhan, Suvidha and Sugam, there are other value-adds as well. CCTV monitoring and live streaming of the election process will be on at the polling stations. Electronic voting machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) are other highlights at the polling stations. Both EVMs and VVPATs serve a purpose. In an attempt to facilitate tamper-proof voting, EVMs will display the photograph of each candidate along with their name and symbol of the party that they represent. VVPATs help voters to verify that their vote was cast correctly, as well as  detecting malfunctions. It’s also a means through which the stored electronic results are audited. In a nutshell, VVPAT has been captured through a short film conveyed through various platforms such as cinema, print, electronic, radio and new forms of media.

E-Atlas, as the name suggests is a digital atlas that offers a complete insight into the electoral map of the state, with details about the assembly constituencies and polling stations. Geographic information system-based planning (GIS), along with the implementation and monitoring of various elections-related activities form the backbone of E-Atlas. For precision and time management, all election-related payments will happen electronically or via e-payments.

Digital communication has a transcendental quality. Social media and mobile apps have become a means to give parties visibility and connect with the masses. The WhatsApp groups, Facebook and Twitter accounts of the party’s supporters are doing the rounds. Electoral agendas are being promoted online. Hashtags convey the party’s vision. Piggybacking on the viral reach, political parties have also floated an Android-based gaming app to rope in young voters.

A departure from the tech-driven services is a gender-based initiative taken by ECI. Each Assembly Constituency will have pink polling booths, which are all-women-managed polling stations. This women empowerment initiative comprises presiding officers, polling officers, micro observers and security personnel. Totally, 224 such women-managed polling stations will be set up in Karnataka for the first time.

We are living in the hashtag world and Whatspp times with a regular stream of updates - the elections are no exception. Karnataka polls certainly carry the promise of being tech savvy and women friendly. Let’s hope for the best.

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