Saturday, May 8, 2010

Couldn't Vote in British Elections;Use India's Electronic Voting Machines

Britain should use electronic voting machines from India to avoid the angry scenes at many polling stations when voters could not vote in the just concluded elections. Televised on global news channels, these scenes were a poor showcase for the democratic process in Britain.

Hundreds of voters were turned away from many U.K. polling stations amid long queues after they were prevented from voting in London, Sheffield, Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham and elsewhere. After voters angrily protested at not being able to cast their votes as the polling stations closed, police was called in to keep the peace in many locations. Voters staged sit-ins and tried to stop polling officers from taking away the ballot boxes.

All this mayhem and anger can be avoided by using the simple electronic voting machines developed for India's election commission. India's 671 million voters, including illiterates, used these user-friendly, tamper proof machines successfully in the last elections. Simple to operate, easy to install, these machines ensure secrecy, eliminate invalid votes and declare results instantly. Costing around $300 each, they need to be bought once and used again and again.

Thus the long rows of polling officers who count the votes manually can also be done away with as the results are tabulated by these machines without any chances of fraud as demonstrated in India. For an estimated 45 million British voters, these machines can be easily used with great manpower savings for vote counting. Britain has been trying to save on the cost of elections by employing a minimum number of persons for this exercise. When the voters came in larger numbers than expected in this election, the system broke down in many polling stations.

Had all these voters cast their ballots, the results could well be different in some constituencies where the margin of victory is wafer thin. Thus, the democratic process has been compromised by following an antiquated election system.

One livid British voter shouted,”I have been enfranchised and this Victorian system, more appropriate for a third world country, cannot be used here.” Jenny Watson, head of the election commission, told the BBC that it would undertake a "thorough review" of the problems, and acknowledged that there may need to be a change in the law to redraw the rules. It's not the laws and rules of extending the voting hours but the mechanism of recoding the votes in a modern manner that can avoid these ugly scenes.

A situation like the U.S. Presidential election in 2000 cannot develop with these machines when the results rested on whether disputed votes for Democratic candidate Al Gore in Florida could be counted. In the end, the courts stopped a re-count - handing victory to George W Bush. British and American observers travel to third world countries to monitor their election process; now it is high time that Britain and USA adapted the systems developed in an emerging country, India.