Election Universe

Election technology, the answer to the largest democracy of the world

Election technology, the answer to the largest democracy of the world
June 25 2019, 13:52

“An election, to be inclusive, must cover all categories of the population and ensure all measures are taken to enable every eligible voter to vote” SY Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India

Managing general elections in India is an epic endeavor. 1.3 billion Indians embody the world’s second-most populous country and the global largest democracy. To serve over 900 million registered voters, the Election Commission of India (ECI) relies on election technology as the most efficient and secure way to administer the polls.

This year’s Indian general election to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament was held in seven phases — from 11 April to 19 May. The counting of votes took place over one day at the end of May (23rd), and the results were declared that same day, thanks to the automated election system in place.

7 stats to understand the dimension of the Indian elections

  • The elections scored a record turnout of 67.11%, beating the 2014 turnout of 65.95%.
  • The voter register encompassed more than 900 million eligible voters.
  • Elections were held over 38 days, across 29 states and seven union territories.
  • The ECI promised to deploy a voting booth within 2km of every single voter.
  • More than 1 million polling stations have to be set up nationwide.
  • Over 2300 registered political parties in the lower house, all of which presented candidates.
  • 543 parliament-seats were at stake, and 272 seats were needed to achieve a majority.

How long is “too long” for an election cycle?

The planning and implementation of election calendars vary considerably from country to country. Key variables to consider when distributing election cycle milestones include the type and number of contests, the number of eligible voters, the number of parties and candidates taking part, accessibility challenges for voters, among others.

In the case of a mammoth event such as the Indian general elections, the ECI decided to split the national vote into seven phases. Nevertheless, the six-week-long vote in which the country embarked in 2019 to choose the new parliament has been considered by critics as a long-drawn-out process.

An editorial in The Economic Times of India, for instance, questioned “Can any large economy afford to put its policymaking machinery in suspended animation for nearly three months? The reason cited for prolonging the exercise over seven phases is the scarcity of law enforcement manpower.”

Meanwhile, other critics used the lengthy cycle as an argument to call for research on online voting, “over time the Election Commission must pursue a model for online voting. It would provide relief from many of today’s woes. It could even lead to a one-phase election.” Some other experts recommend to evaluate the adoption of AI, “Modern-day elections can be transformed with the use of Artificial Intelligence by reducing the amount of manual labor required to execute such an exercise while also improve its overall effectiveness.”

20 years of service from electronic voting machines

In India, all the voting process is automated. The voting machines, known as EVMs, have been partially adopted by the subcontinent since 1999 and they encompass two units: the control unit and the balloting unit.

The approval and evolution of Indian EVMs respond to the ECI’s needs to cater to millions of diverse voters in a multilayered and vast country. The DRE machines were first used in 1982. Nonetheless, complete adoption nationwide did not occur until 2002. Over time, significant election technology improvements have taken place.

The battery-powered electronic voting devices have added since 2013 a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) – a printing attached hardware. Electronic voting machines with paper trail allow voters to confirm their vote before casting it and support post-election audits. During the 2019 elections, after demands from opposition to crosscheck paper slips as an audit, the ECI and the Supreme Court allowed counting VVPATs randomly in five polling booths per assembly segment. This was the first Lok Sabha election in which each EVM had a VVPAT and in which physical verification of VVPAT slips has been done.

2019 also saw the introduction of other new technologies such as GPS tracking of EVMs and VVPATs, voter helpline, poll data monitoring and election expenditure monitoring, Candidate app, and the EVM management system.


Whether it is following a similar electronic voting model as the one in India or any other election technology solution, it is critical that Election Commissions evaluate how can their management platforms support the digital future of voting.