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Geetanjali Krishna: Smart voter-IDs needed

Geetanjali Krishna  |  New Delhi 

The other day, I caught up with some old friends, all of whom happened to belong to (or lived in) some of Uttar Pradesh’s (UP) smaller mofussil towns. Inevitably, the conversation veered to the general elections and the general lawlessness that usually prevailed in UP during past elections. Each tale told was taller than the other, and most revolved around the fact that voter ID cards were so easily fudged. “I know many people with multiple voter identities,” one friend said boastfully. “That’s nothing,” said the other, “I have known of people who’ve voted at least five times in one election after erasing the ‘indelible’ ink from their fingernails before it dries!” Others spoke of the time when they went to vote, only to find that someone had already voted against their name.

The tales were tall, but could well be true. For when we were in Bhadoi (an eastern UP district) during the 1998 general elections, we’d seen all this and more. I still remember a story that the then Superintendent of Police of Bhadoi told us. A burkha-clad woman came to cast her vote, but the presiding officer suspected she’d already done so earlier. He couldn’t get her to raise her veil without incurring her community’s ire. But when he began quizzing her, she turned tail and ran. The veil slipped and everyone realised that the ‘lady’ was a bearded man! Although he was arrested, he became a hero. For he wasn’t alone: Tales of one-person-many-votes flew fast and furious around us during that time.

Anyway, the evening ended, and I was left wondering how we as a nation can actually ensure, that if not this one, then at least our next general election is free and fair. The only answer that kept coming back to me was to ensure a better system of identification of voters, so as to avoid irregularities in the voting process. That’s when I remembered Chennai-based Kris Dev and his biometric I-cards. Identification that is based on fingerprint and iris recognition (the two most-commonly used unique biometric criteria), is almost completely foolproof. And accurate identification would certainly mean an end to some of the election-day madness we’d been swapping stories about.

“I believe that biometric voter cards (which use either fingerprints or any other form of unique physical identification) will ensure total accuracy in identification of registered voters,” said Kris. What a biometric voter card would mean is this — when a voter goes to cast his vote, a computer will tally his/her fingerprints with those recorded on the voter card. If they tally, s/he may vote. If they don’t, s/he can’t vote. “There’s no scope for bogus voting in this,” said Kris, “even Bangladesh adopted this technology in its 2008 elections.” He is happy that this time at least one political party has promised (in its manifesto) to implement biometric voter cards if it comes to power. “But most parties are against such cards, as they rely on rigging elections to win seats,” he said.

In fact, Kris is promoting a single multi-use smart card like the one used in Singapore: “The card may be used as a passport, voter ID and driving licence, as well as to record details of electricity, water and other connections,” he said.

With 16 or 32 GB memory, this card could act as a voter I-card, driving licence, bank passbook, passport etc — and would be almost impossible to duplicate or falsify. Only then, said Kris, would the election results truly reflect the will of the nation, adding, “and we’ll see a transformed India.”

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First Published: Sat, May 02 2009. 00:54 IST