Voters should be allowed to cast their votes at least six days ahead of the cut-off day as in the US, eliminating possibilities of intimidating them in the polling centres
Shamim A. Zahedy
With the election to two city corporations in Dhaka to be held tomorrow (February 1, 2020), Bangladesh’s debate over electronic voting machines gains steam. After the election day is over, the recurring public debate over the use of machines to ensure what it is called secured voting will surely be running hot in a country where orthodox paper balloting has always been questioned by and large when it comes to holding free and fair elections.
The BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) has always been dead against use of machines in the voting process as perhaps its arch rival Awami League has allowed the introduction of EVMs or electronic voting machines. The BNP is alleging that machines could be manipulated to rig votes.
What the BNP and others, who vehemently oppose the use of technology, fail to understand that any small tinkering in machines could well be traced if challenged while a widespread manipulation in traditional voting process using ballot papers may not leave any clue to detect.
Despite the fact that every system, be it manual or electronic, will have advantages and disadvantages, advanced technology will always offer the best solution to ensure holding of a fair election.
Yes, there have been criticisms that an EVM does not have voter verifiable paper audit trail, a printout document that re-confirms voting is done; yes, election officials have overriding powers in case a voter’s fingerprint is not matched with the database. The BNP rather should deploy technical experts to keep the machines off human-intervention as much as possible, ultimately making the machines foolproof.
Again, the BNP fears that after fingerprint verification at the voting control unit, anyone forcibly can cast the vote intimidating the genuine voter. Well, that is not the fault of the machines.
But one peaceful voting day cannot necessarily ensure free and fair elections: the whole election process has to be seamlessly synchronised throughout the year.
In a country like Bangladesh, lots of odd barriers stand in the way of free and fair elections: capturing of polling booths, stuffing ballot boxes, driving away polling agents of rivals, intimidating voters to stay away from voting and even sometimes polling officials’ bizarre behaviour of siding with particular candidates.
Also the authorities ask ‘non-residents’ of an election constituency to leave the area, sometimes mobile phone networks are shut down and a total transport ban is imposed to make sure fair voting, all at the cost of harassments and sufferings of people. Think of the person who needs to go to the airport to catch a flight, think also of him who needs to see a doctor on an emergency basis. Despite all these, the EC’s efforts may go down the drain at last, producing no acceptable results.
Here comes the tech to make things happen: blockchain. This is a fascinating new technology that allows safe and secured electronic data transaction, meaning the transaction cannot be changed or altered.
According to techterms.com, the name, blockchain, comes from its structure, in which individual records, called blocks, are linked together in a single list, called a chain.
“Each transaction added to a blockchain is validated by multiple computers on the Internet. These systems, which are configured to monitor specific types of blockchain transactions, form a peer-to-peer network. They work together to ensure each transaction is valid before it is added to the blockchain. This decentralized network of computers ensures a single system cannot add invalid blocks to the chain.”
The blockchain technology opens immense opportunities for financial dealings such as remittance, credits and payments apart from e-governance areas such as voting and digital identity.
Many in the blockchain world say voting will have a new method that is more secure and easier, ultimately enabling more people to exercise their franchise.
Many companies though startups have come up with the idea of blockchain technology-based voting method to bring more transparency.
US-based FollowMyVote says: “Using this advanced technology we will be able to gain transparency into our elections, without compromising voter privacy, and have a way to mathematically prove that the elections results are accurate. Also, at the voter’s request, there would even be a way to allow a voter to cast vote online in an election and follow the vote into the ballot box to ensure that the vote was safely and securely stored without being changed or altered in any way.”
But until now what does Bangladesh have in its store to make the best use of? Authorities must make smart national ID cards mandatory for every voter to cast vote. The ID holder or voter can also be verified through iris scanning if fingerprint scanning is failed, eliminating fake voters and also most importantly doing away with need for polling booth agents for candidates.
In the 11th parliamentary elections on December 30, 2018, there had been over 200,000 polling booths in over 40,000 polling centres to accommodate over 100 million voters with male and female ratio being almost 50 percent.
Just imagine, over 80 percent problem relating to voting irregularities will be solved if there is no fake voter and polling agent system.
Next comes the one-and-only-voting-day tradition in Bangladesh. Instead of it, voters should be allowed to cast their votes at least six days ahead of the cut-off day as in the US, eliminating possibilities of intimidating them in the polling centres.
See, all the medieval problems are gone: there is no need to impose almost blanket transport ban, there is no need to shut down mobile phone networks, and there is no need to ask the non-residents in a constituency to leave their area.
You also do not need to deploy over 600,000 law enforcers to hold so-called peaceful elections as what was the case in 2018 national elections.
Yet the authorities will not pay heed to tech advancement in the voting system or listen to advices. The Election Commission as usual will go into a long hibernation after this city polls, waking up just before any next major election only to “strut and fret upon the stage and then to be heard no more.”
The writer is the executive editor of The Independent.
He can be reached at email@example.com
First printed :
30 January, 2020 11:58:22 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 31 January, 2020 05:36:19 PM