Online option will increase voting percentage to over 90%: Neeraj Gutgutia, Right2Vote

Over 20 crore people in India do not get to exercise their right to vote for multiple reasons like travelling to other parts of the country for job, education, marriage and also for reason like residing currently in a different location from the place they are registered to vote. This also include around 2 crore Non Resident Indians (NRI) who live outside India.

Then there are also others who have to travel on the day of voting including transport sector employees (truck drivers, pilot, air hostess, taxi drivers, bus drivers). There is also a small segment who miss voting opportunity due to their inability to access polling booths mainly cause of heath reasons, especially in the case of the senior citizens.

There have been many debates and campaigns, which usually takes steam during elections, on the right to exercise online voting. And this has been going on for years. Online voting, if implemented, will give an opportunity to a huge number of NRIs spread across the globe to exercise their voting rights digitally through mobile handsets or other electronic devices.

Online voting is expected to increase the voting percentage to nearly 90% from the existing low range of 55-66% and will impact around INR 60,000 crore in savings, the amount that is spent across Lok Sabha, sState and Llocal body elections.

Manish Joshi from NewsBarons connects with Neeraj Gutgutia, founder of the online voting platform Right2Vote, an online voting platform tested and certified for security and quality by Government of India, informs ‘We are already doing a pilot for Maharashtra State Election Commission in a Panchayat election and in talks with 4 nearly other 4 state election commissions’.

NB: Tell us about Right2vote?

Neeraj: Right2Vote is an online voting platform which helps voters to cast vote from any location using their mobile handset or their computer, similar to mobile banking or stock trading.

Right2Vote is an effort from our side to reform the Indian political environment and make it secure and more transparent. Our research indicated the inability to vote due to lack of online voting options impact nearly 20-30 crore of our population, the huge amount of public money spent to organise election infrastructure and the required resource of over 10 million people during the same period. This is a huge cost to the nation in terms of time, money and resource that can be, otherwise, directed towards nation building. Online voting can reduce the cost of elections by nearly 90% and the time frame can be reduced to 2-3 days in which people can cast their votes and the counting will be done digitally.

Currently, we provide online voting technology to all kind of election including government elections, companies, colleges, clubs, housing societies, cooperatives, unions amongst others. On an average we conduct two voting events per day. We have already manged more than 140 events on our platform in 2019.

Stats for the 2014 National Elections:

• $5 billion spent on elections. Government spends exceeded INR 3500 crore excluding security and political party expenses
• Nation came to a standstill for 2 months (Conducted in 9 phases over 35 days)
• 10 million officials were deployed (including police and security)
• 9,30,000 polling booths were set up
• Counting was held across 989 centres

Source: Right2Vote

NB: There have been huge discussions about online voting, but it is yet to be implemented? What are the main reasons for this delay?

Neeraj: Historically, we have been slow at adopting technology. Elections are very sensitive matters and change of election method would require parliamentary approval. There requires a strong political will and motivation to implement online voting across all election mandates in India. The Election Commission has held discussion with political parties but most political parties showed their reservations against online voting.

Online voting can be implemented only if there is a universal digital ID system and Aadhaar is the system which is appropriate for this. However, due to political compulsions and vested interest, there is still strong opposition against Aadhaar usage. There are people who would always be against security and transparency due to vested interests.

NB: Are technological challenges like hacking possibilities a threat in implementing online voting in India?

Neeraj: Hacking is a risk that can be mitigated with proper preparation and use of technology. Hacking is not an unmanageable risk because of which mobile voting should be rejected. We are too invested in internet now to raise hacking as an argument against voting. If hacking was such a risk, many critical activities which can put human lives at risk would not have moved to networked world. Mobile voting is an eventuality that is destined to happen. These arguments can delay the timelines but cannot change the destiny.

NB: Are there laws in place that makes online voting mandatory or do we need to modify certain sections for the same?

Neeraj: The new companies Act 2013 makes online voting mandatory for listed companies. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy code 2016 makes online voting compulsory for creditors meeting.

However, for political elections it is not mandatory yet. It would require approval of parliament. NRI associationss have filed case in Supreme Court for more than 10 years now demanding remote voting facility. SC has directed government to suggest options. The government is currently suggesting proxy voting which is neither secure nor feasible.

NB: Is online voting a common practise across developed countries?

Neeraj: Many countries have implemented online voting option, with Estonia leading the pack by implementing it way back in 2005.

Countries like USA provide online voting as an option for non residents and for others voters under early voting. Other countries like Switzerland and Sweden have implemented it. Many countries are doing hybrid options where certain sections of voters can vote online, rest have to vote at booth.