With just a month to go before the world's largest democracy starts voting for a new parliament, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora yesterday announced several measures that are being implemented to help ensure free, fair and participative polls. So here's a look at all that will be new in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which will be held for 543 seats on nearly 10 lakh polling booths across the country:
Photos of all candidates on EVMs
Arora said on Sunday that all the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and postal ballot papers will have to carry photographs of all the candidates - in addition to their respective party names and symbols - to help voters identify the political leaders in the fray and eliminate confusion.
According to the Election Commission, although India had first gone to polls with photo electoral rolls in 2009, Assam, Jammu & Kashmir and Nagaland did not have it. But now, all the states and union territories have photo electoral rolls and photographs of 99.72 per cent electors are already printed in the electoral rolls. The Commission added that official voter slip bearing the photo of the elector (wherever present in the roll) will be distributed at least five days before the polling date.
Introduction of VVPATs
The poll body is introducing voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) for verification of voting in all polling booths in the country for the first time in general elections - VVPATs have previously been used in Assembly elections and bypolls. These machines are being used to bring more transparency in the system, as directed by the Supreme Court.
VVPAT machines, attached to EVMs, dispense a slip with the name of the candidate and his/her party symbol each time a vote is cast. This slip appears on a small window for seven seconds and then drops into a sealed container. Hence, matching EVM and VVPAT results dispel fears about EVMs being 'hacked' to favour a particular political party.
Furthermore, in the wake of complaints regarding security of EVMs, last mile transportation of these machines will now be tracked through GPS.
New Vigilant Citizen app
The Election Commission has launched a new Vigilant Citizen app - cVIGIL - ahead of the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha Elections. The app has been launched for citizens across the country to help them report any violation of code of conduct - say, incidents of intimidation or inducement - on their Android mobiles during polling. The app is available on the Play Store but will work from the date of notification of election.
So how does it work? cVIGIL comprises a combination of time-stamping and live photo with auto location which creates a more reliable picture of the incident than just reporting it verbally. "The GIS-based dashboard provides strong decision tool to drop and dispose of frivolous and unrelated cases even before they are acted upon, thereby reducing the workload of election machinery on ghost complaints," reads the Play Store description. The devices running Android version 4.1 and above can run the app.
Eagle eye on online campaigning
The CEC yesterday also announced the steps that the Election Commission will monitor online campaigning. In order to fight the menace of fake news, all candidates standing for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will have to declare their social media accounts to the Commission as part of their affidavit at the time of filing nominations.
Moreover, all political advertisement on social media will require pre-certification from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committees (MCMCs) in place at the district and state levels. These ads will be part of the poll expenditure of the party. All the provisions of the Election Commission's model code of conduct - including the 'silence period' that exists 48 hours prior to polling in a region - will also apply to the content being posted on social media by candidates and political parties.
"Various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, WhatsApp, and Share Chat, will remain under the close and stringent vigil of the Commission for any content aimed at vitiating the electoral process or designed to disturb peace, tranquillity, social harmony and public order," said Arora, adding that a social media expert is also going to be part of the MCMCs.
Photo voter slip will no longer suffice
In end-February, the Election Commission had announced that a photo voter slip shall no longer be used as a standalone identification document during elections. Instead, a voter will have to carry any of the following 12 approved identity cards to the polling station - Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC), passport, Aadhaar card, driving licence, PAN card, service identity cards with photographs issued to employees by central/state government or PSUs and public limited companies, passbooks issued by bank or post office, and smart card issued by the Registrar General of India under National Populations Register. Other approved documents are MNREGA job card, health insurance smart card issued under the scheme of Ministry of Labour, pension document with photograph and official identity cards issued to MPs, MLAs and MLCs.
This decision was taken after representations were made to the Commission against the use of these slips as they do not boast any security feature. "In the case of EPIC, minor discrepancies in the entries therein should be ignored provided the identity of the elector can be established by the EPIC," the order stated.
In addition to the above, the Election Commission has strengthened its Voter Helpline to help citizens get authentic information pertaining to his/her voter registration. Voters in the Electoral Roll can use the Voter Helpline Mobile App or log into the www.nvsp.in portal or use the toll-free 1950 Helpline Number to check details of their personal information as well as get information of the polling station where they have to cast their vote.
For instance, to fetch the address of the Polling Station where you have to go, send the following SMS to 1950:
ECI <EPIC Number> <0 (for reply in English) or <1 (for reply in the regional language)
With PTI inputs