Election Universe

India and the benefits of electronic voting

India and the benefits of electronic voting
May 08 2014, 15:19

India, a frontrunner in the adoption of electronic voting, is busy conducting the largest election ever held. And it is doing so with the help of 1.8 million electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Why does India automate?

In 1982 India pioneered the use of direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines to capture voter intent. The sheer size of the territory and its electorate, and the intricate logistics involved in conducting an election, helped its national electoral commission realise fairly early the importance of automating its elections.

The world’s biggest election is happening right now

As Hari Kumar explains in a recent NY Times article, India is enjoying many of the benefits electronic voting brings in this largest-ever electoral exercise.  Let’s look at some of those benefits in greater detail:


Given the complex logistics of this election, the Electoral Commission of India (ECI) extended voting for five weeks.

When the election is finally over, on 12 May, all EVMs will be taken to an auditorium and opened for tallying and consolidation on the 16th. Authorities expect to count billions of votes to announce the results that very same day.

“The electronic voting machines allow all of the votes in India to be counted in one day, instead of the several days that were needed when paper ballots were used.” says Mr. Kumar.

He goes on to quote Mr. Chawla, the former chief election commissioner, recalling his experience in the 2009 elections: “To be able to count 450 million votes accurately in a few hours’ time is amazing by any standard.”


Accuracy is one of the single most important benefits of automation. As human error is eliminated from all sensitive part of the process, accuracy increases.

“In eliminating the need for paper ballots, India… reduced the number of invalidated ballots to 0.05 percent from 1.91 percent in 1999…”


Voting machines can be taken to the remotest and rural areas of the country to guarantee that no citizen is left without voicing their opinion.

“The 1.8 million electronic voting machines (….), have been designed to adapt to the logistical challenges in India, where roads can be nonexistent and the electricity supply erratic. The machines are small enough to carry by hand and require only a six-volt alkaline battery. With one-third of India’s adult population illiterate, the voting machines feature both a list of candidates’ names and their party symbol.”

919,000 polling stations have been set up for these elections as the ECI decided that no citizen should travel more than 2 kilometers to cast a ballot.


According to Hari Kumar “Now that the vote count is electronic, ballot-box stuffing is no longer possible — in which hired henchmen from a particular party would take control of a ballot box and literally stuff ballots into it.”

Although India is a world reference in automation, in terms of guaranteeing total transparency, the ECI has a pending task. A recent ruling by the Supreme Court directed the Electoral Commission (ECI) of India to introduce a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) to all the voting machines. Printing a voting voucher will help citizens, politicians, authorities and all stakeholders to validate the legitimacy of results.

For these elections 20,000 out of 1.8 million machines had the VVPAT device incorporated.


Manual elections involve printing absurd quantities of paper, especially for an election the size of India’s that serves over 80 million people. Doing so comes at a great costs: economic, logistical and perhaps more importantly, ecological.

Navin Chawla, a former chief election commissioner who supervised the 2009 general elections, said that according to one estimate, if the current election were to use paper ballots, India would have needed to cut down 282,240 trees. In 1999, he said, the general election used 7,700 metric tons of paper.

Read The Device that Runs the World´s Biggest Election 

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