Publication Name: DNA
Date: 6 April 2014
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The ability to cast a ballot is often a given. But can one make the entire voting process a bit more pleasant? How can we encourage more people to cast their votes? Are there more efficient ways that can be introduced to improve voting practices? Can 'service design' play a role in this? A leading service design company, Tata Elxsi, feels there is enough scope. Narendra Ghate, chief designer (service design) with the company, has some ideas and some solutions. These can be seen as recommendations for the country's poll panel.
Q: What are these design solutions that you are going to recommend to the Election Commission (EC)?
A: The election process has three phases: pre-election phase, the actual election day, and post-election phase. Currently, the EC primarily interacts with voting citizens only on election day. During the other phases, it's the media and the politicians who interact with the public. The design solutions we would like to recommend is to create a comprehensive and an intuitive platform where the EC and citizens can interact and engage with each other throughout the three phases. Be it through intuitive technological tools and platforms, or unique processes that would allow EC to educate, excite and inform citizens during the full cycle.
In the pre-election phase. there is a need to an interactive mobile app or a website platform where the EC can interact with citizens by providing real-time information on issues like the amount of money spent on infrastructure, know your MP/MLA, etc. This would be an unbiased route which would not be politically driven. Moreover, EC representatives can conduct live events like debates / quizzes which would encourage more interaction among citizens. Such initiatives make people more participatory. The entire verification process for a voter should be simplified by automating the process. Maybe, by introducing a biometric system or iris axis where a thumb impression or a iris check can validate and recognise a voter.
In the existing EVMs (electronic voting machines) party symbols are not clear and bold. The symbols are not well-printed, the lights are dim, the place is cramped. All these make it possible for the casting of mistaken votes. Making these more prominent is one of the solutions. Besides, while voting through EVMs, people are sometimes not sure if the vote has been cast, or if it has gone to the party of their choice. Pressing a button seems a very easy (and hence casual) way to cast a vote. Can the process be made more deliberate so as to register in a person's mind? Even converting the press button to a toggle switch (with a loud 'click') we think will improve the perception of this action that one has undertaken.
In the post-election phase, it's only the media that provides information. If there could be something like apps whereby people can access information not just at the national level, but more about their local constituency as well, would make the elections more local and personal. It would also empower people, and build confidence and create an urge to participate.
Q: What are the design flaws in the election system? What is it that makes just the voting process such an arduous task?
A: Finding your name in the voters list, standing in long and never-ending queues, dimly-lit voting booths are some of the design flaws. People often are uncertain and anxious whether they would be able to cast their votes, right from getting to know if they are eligible to standing in the long queues. Voting is a celebration of democracy, but the current process feels more like a chore rather than a duty. Also, the election today seems more like a onetime event. How can we induce that sense of participation throughout the process so that citizens feel empowered?
A case in point. Two years ago, Iceland had a vote (referendum) to decide if it should pay back its debt (and hence, pile up more taxes on citizens). Each citizen personally went through hours of soul-searching and debates on whether his/her country should default or whether he/she should bear the financial pain. This kind of involvement, where every citizen thinks really hard before casting a vote is the true power of democracy.
Q: What are the other design elements / processes which can be introduced in the election process, be it related to administration or technology to enable pleasant voting experiences?
A: There are some. (i) establishing a trust factor in the EVM where a person knows that his/her vote correctly goes to the party of his/her choice ; (ii) biometrics / iris axis to verify the voter in order to avoid duplication of votes, or to stop another person from casting the vote. Moreover, there is this huge expense of logistics to be arranged for that one day. Imagine a situation, where as a citizen you get to vote often. Instead of every five years, you vote on issues once or twice a month. Each could be seen as a referendum. It could be a local municipal body election, or a signature campaign about a specific bill. If citizens' participation in governance becomes a common occurrence, some of the infrastructure supporting this can be permanent too.
Q: What made Tata Elxsi come up with this idea in the first place? Corporates are not known to get involved in the political-election process.
A: Tata Elxsi has been involved in system-level thinking and problem-solving. We have worked with various government and public sector undertakings. This election has had quite a buzz going around for some time, and this got us thinking.