September 13, 2020

Towards Paperless Polling: Booth App

By kushal

“It was perceived that the Governments have been less effective than the private sector in using information technology to reinvent work processes. Now, mobile technology offers an opportunity to hit the reset button”

-Kushal Pathak

You are woken up by an alert from your phone about the election today. You then receive the navigation guide to reach the polling station. As you are having a sip of morning tea, you get an alert about the facilities at the polling station like toilet, parking area, wheelchair availability, seating place with a digital photograph of your polling station. While you are reading the newspapers, you get an alert about the list of all the contesting candidates of your area. While you get ready, you get an alert about the best time to vote and how much is the current queue at your booth. You get excited and decide to go for the polling station and find that you get the digital token number at the gate and you are asked to sit comfortably till your token number is announced like the flying attendant calling your name in the airport before boarding; “row number 10 to 15 please come forward for boarding”.

You enter the Polling Station with your digital photo ID card and the Polling Staff instead of searching your name in the big ledger, simply scan your ID card in a second. He instantly marks your attendance on the mobile device and allows you to vote.

ECI adopted a “mobile-first” approach

Booth App designed and developed under Kushal Pathak is empowering voters to vote without hassles at polling stations with interactive approach in finding polling station location, information about candidates, authentication etc.

– Kunal, CEO Goa

Welcome to Digital Polling Station, a foreseeable future, powered by Election Commission of India’s digital mobile technologies. Election Commission of India has in-house developed the minimalist technology interface through the use of the mobile phone for the Polling Party. 

Booth App is a mobile app meant for Booth Level Officer, Polling Officials, Preceding Officers and Sector Magistrate. Booth App helps in faster identification of voters using edge technology. It is unique in a way, that the app is not dependent upon connection with the server for operation. It works in an offline environment, whenever there is no internet connection. Thus, it is designed to work in an absolute network shadow area. It has evolved from Iterative design: Prototype, test, prototype again

Mobile a source of security, not a threat

Upon authorisation and secured authentication, only Polling Party can log on to the app. Booth level Officer at the Polling Gate scans the QR code printed in the Photo Voter Slips / Digital Photo Voter slip and allows authorised voter entry. Polling Staff inside the Polling Station scans and identity voters by marking their attendance. Meanwhile, the Presiding Officer keeps a watch of polling and record events and incidences. All such reports are notified to Sector Magistrates, Returning Officer and to District Election officers. 

This technology was first piloted in Hamirpur (Uttar Pradesh) in 5 polling stations, after that in 3 assembly constituencies Samastipur (Bihar), Kasba Peth (Maharashtra) and Phagwara (Punjab) and then in 10 ACs of Jharkhand and most recently in 11 Assembly constituencies of Delhi. A total of 6,447 polling stations have used booth app with a fair bit of success. A total of  59,70,388 scans have been done using the app.

Achieve more for less

Booth App has brought in many transformations in the way the poll is conducted. 

Firstly, Identification of Voters have been made through Mobile App: Instead of searching from the physical list of electors, Polling officials are able to search the voters by using booth app instantly. 

Secondly, Booth app ensured Faster Polling: Considerable time in the polling station is spent in the identification of the voter from the multiple pages of the physical copy of the electors. If the name is not found in the usual list, another laborious exercise of searching for the name in the list is done, the Presiding officer gets involved and an elector list of the previous year is then searched. Many times, a voter not finding the name, insists on searching again. This creates uncertainty and a colossal waste of time. All this has been eased out by the instant search using the app.

Not just the identification has become fast, it has become more reliable. The mobile app displays the coloured photograph along with complete details of the voter directly from the central database; the Polling staff are confidently able to identify the voter, instead of relying on the printed black and white copy of the elector list.

The booth app is environment-friendly and saves a lot of paper. Imagine the Lok Sabha Elections of 2024 when the polling official is saved from so many documents and paperwork. He transacts his core function through the mobile app only.

Thirdly, Booth app is a panacea for detecting duplicate voting. If the voter re-enters the queue after voting, the app does not allow duplicate voting and alerts the polling official. On the other hand, if polling officials reinsert a voter by any malicious intent, the app will not allow that to happen. This feature will further improve with facial recognition and strong network connectivity in place and will then be able to prevent duplicate voting across polling stations. I wonder if we would ever need the indelible ink? 

Fourthly, the booth app introduces yet another fantastic feature, advance queue information. By using an advanced computational algorithm, it calculates the queue at the booth and displays it on the Voter Helpline Mobile app. Think about the possibility, when you get to know when is the best time to vote. Isn’t it cool…! 

Fifthly, booth app can scan the ‘Digital Photo Voter Slips’ which was recently made available on Voter Helpline mobile app. The Voters can now download the digital Photo Voter slips from the Voter Helpline Mobile app by linking up their mobile phones.  The Digital slips contain an encrypted QR code which can only be read by the booth app. Once the voter presents with the Digital Photo Voter Slip, Polling Officials only need to scan it to ascertain the identity of the voter. 

More aware, more effective, more in control

Booth app mobile technology not only helps Poll Officials do more with less in the face of shrinking workforces and tightly stretched timelines but also allows them to do their jobs better. 

Booth app has, on one hand, improved the convenience to voters but on the other hands, it has completely transformed the efficiency of statutory requirements to be fulfilled by Polling staff. Presiding Officers can fill up the mandatory PRO diary through the mobile app. The many statutory reports are generated on the fly without the manual calculation. Thus, the chances of errors are manyfold decreased. 

The booth app establishes a channel of communications between the various vital functionaries. It provides structured and rapid communication in case of events and incidences. By a simple app-based reporting mechanism, the report travels to Sector Magistrate, District Election Officer and also to Chief Electoral officers.

One of the very important features of the system is the real-time reporting of the Voter turnout. Earlier, a data entry team was established to call, record and compile the voter turnout every two hourly. This creates a lot of clerical errors in recording, transmission and reporting. With the introduction of Booth App, the voter turnout is recorded without any manual intervention. 

As the app works without the internet to transfer the voter turnout to the Returning Officer, almost all polling station data is received at the server in real-time. This not only generates voter turnout but also provides a rich decision support system tool. Returning Officers are able to see the gender distribution of voters in real-time, male/female/others distribution, queue at the polling station, speed of the poll and the busiest hour of the polling station. Returning Officers are now able to get the report such as time of polling party dispatch, arrival, mock poll start, poll start and poll end reports on the dashboard.

By using simple technologies, booth app have tremendous potential of transforming how the poll is conducted. The ultra-simple mobile interface allows faster acceptability. As of now, 25,270 officials have used the booth app which includes Booth Level Officers, Polling Officials, Sector Magistrates & Returning officers. They were hands-on with the usage of the app, in one day of training. 

By integrating the mobile app in the workflow of the polling official, the booth app has not only simplified the work of the polling officials but greatly improved the convenience of the voters. The day is not far when polling officials will carry mobile and EVM to the polling station and walk away with confidence at the end of the poll.

It was perceived that the Governments have been less effective than the private sector in using information technology to reinvent work processes. Now, mobile technology offers an opportunity to hit the reset button. The effectiveness of mobile in the Elections is dependent largely on how it is implemented. But if mobile is a challenge, it is also an opportunity: a chance for the ECI to start closing the productivity gap, reassess its reporting practices, boost its efficiency in conducting elections, and renegotiate its relationship with the voters it serves. 

And Booth App has proved it!

Download the original article from ‘My Vote Matters Magazine’ of Election Commission of India

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