Elections 2008

Ok, so we had this opportunity again to elect a new state government. These elections had the usual uncertainty, drama and fierceness of competitive fight and now when results are out, not many surprises. Anti-incumbency is always a powerful factor and can only be countered by strong sentiment or a prominent track record, both of which were not apparent. One surprise, of course, is defeat of C P Joshi by a single vote. A single vote!

I wonder at times if the polling process captures the intent of majority in a reliable manner. I think its not the case. One of the fundamental flaws is the aggregation mechanism which destroys a lot of information at the constituency level as ‘seats’ are totalled instead of ‘votes’. Now the constituencies are defined geographically and so a geographically dispersed opinion would have much lesser influence than a concentrated one, even if the opinion is supported by a significantly larger number of people. And, then, one can count an umpteen number of issues related to vote capture mechanism — what if the choices in front of the voter don’t include the choice that the voter wants to make, what about people who could not or did not vote, and many possible errors in counting and aggregating, and so on.

A defeat by one vote is still a defeat. Even if we assume that the electronic voting machines (EVMs) worked flawlessly and were used in correct manner everywhere, can the result be considered representative of public opinion? But, also, is there any way to ascertain if the EVMs worked flawlessly. As a practitioner in information technology, I have learnt not to trust technology. One has to have control mechanisms and audit trails. And we have none here. There is no way to differentiate between button presses by eligible voters and random electronic noise. But then that,┬áper-se, doesn’t worry me. I think that till there is no way for anybody but the voters to influence the behaviour of the machine, we still have representative democracy. But, it is a plausible scenario that, atleast in some ways, the EVMs can be unduly influenced. And the purpose of elections is defeated if any of the candidates has any, howsoever small but significant, advantage over others. Having the machine print out every vote as the voter presses the button, ensuring a paper trail is a possible solution. And, this might have been helpful to the hapless Joshi!