TECH TALK: Technology and the Indian Elections: Counting

One of the big steps forward in India in recent years has been the increasing usage of electronic voting machines for the polling. A decade ago, another project put voting cards in the hands of Indians. Taken together, these two have made voting less prone to malpractice.

Opinion Polls conducted by multiple entities will give us a flavour of the verdict even as the votes are cast. Given the diversity of India and an electorate which is more intelligent than the pollsters give credit for, the opinion polls of the past have had a mixed history. So, come the actual counting day, there is still expected to be significant interest in the results.

The first port of call to know the latest status will undoubtedly be television. The multitude of news channels will provide round-the-clock coverage and analysis, as they have done in the past. But there are some limitations that TV has since it is a broadcast medium with a single stream, it is hard to provide details at the state- and constituency-level on demand for surfers. This is where the Internet can shine.

Traditionally, there have been a few websites which have provided detailed coverage of the election results, providing an update on the votes for each candidate as the feed comes in. The source for all is the data from the Election Commission, which will also maintain its own site. From past experience, traffic on these sites is very high for the 24-36 hours that counting lasts, and it is hard to get access. From the websites point of view, it is also difficult to prepare and plan for traffic which can 10-20 times higher than normal.

In 2004, it is possible to do things differently to ensure that surfers can timely, personalised data:

  • The Election Commission should make available a data stream as the updates come in from various constituencies. This is akin to the feed that stock exchanges provide of trading.
  • Websites should update their pages and databases with the feed. In addition, they should make available RSS feeds at a constituency, state, party and national level. This will let individual users subscribe to just the content they need, and also reduce the traffic on the websites.
  • Users should be able to create their own customised dashboards, with visualisation software, to focus on just the information they want. In addition, it should be possible to provide alerts on cellphones via SMS.

    To provide the coverage will cost money for the websites. By working to personalise and localise the information provide, they will be able to match advertisers and surfers better, and thus be able to create a win-win situation: the websites will be able tocreate the technological platforms for delivery of the coverage with sponsorships and ads from organizations interested in reaching viewers who are able to get just the information they want.

    The counting process in the elections thus offers a platform to showcase innovative technologies. Enterprise software companies should jump at this opportunity to build the right platforms and demonstrate the value of access to real-time, event-driven information.

    Tomorrow: Governance

    TECH TALK Technology and the Indian Elections+T

  • Published by

    Rajesh Jain

    An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.