Enabling Visually Challenged Voters

Section 11 of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, states that the Election Commission of India and the state election commissions shall ensure that all polling stations are accessible to persons with disabilities and all materials related to the electoral process are easily understandable by and accessible to them. The Act was made to give effect to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an international human rights treaty of the United Nations intended to ensure full and effective participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.

According to the Strategic Framework on Accessible Elections adopted on July 4, 2018 in the National Consultation on Accessible Elections, the Election Commission is committed to building an equal access framework for persons with disabilities supported by the fundamentals of responsiveness, respect and dignity to enhance elector confidence among them; and support initiatives for improved service offerings to enhance their electoral participation. The Election Commission recognises the use of accessible technological tools for facilitating persons with disabilities of different categories to cast their votes.

Yet, persons with disabilities have been fighting for long for their right to vote on par with other citizens. There are about 2.68 crore disabled persons in India, out of whom about 50 lakh are visually challenged. Voters with disability in seeing are still able to cast a vote at an election booth with the assistance of a companion. An assisted vote, while not a secret and independent one, still allows such voters to participate in the electoral process. However, in the present system of voting through EVMs, there is no way of knowing if the assisting person has indeed cast his/her vote for the candidate picked by the voter with disability in seeing.

For the convenience of voters with disability in seeing, there is Braille signage on the balloting unit of EVM. On the right side of the balloting unit along the candidates’ vote button, digits 1 to 16 are embossed in Braille signage for the guidance of such voters. However, a voter with disability in seeing can press a button but cannot ascertain the actual voting. The voter is not sure whether his/her vote is recorded or not, if recorded, whether it is recorded in favour of the candidate to whom it was intended or not. Moreover, not every person with disability in seeing understands Braille.

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Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is an independent system attached with the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) that allows the voters to verify that their votes are cast as intended.  However, there is no such facility by which the voters with disability in seeing can verify their voting. There is a need to provide a system by which the voters with disability in seeing can get immediate audio verification of their cast votes.

Image Text to Speech Conversion Device

The basic idea of the proposed stand-alone real-time system is to capture the image of the paper slip generated by the printer in VVPAT, extract text from it and convert the text into speech that can be listened to through the headphones.

The ITTS device consists of four main components: camera, programmable system (optical character recognition software and text-to-speech engine), headphones and battery. As the optical character recognition software can not recognise and convert the image of the symbol of the candidate printed on the paper slip in VVPAT into text, the name of the symbol needs to be loaded in the VVPAT machine along with the serial number, the name of the candidate and the image of the symbol.

The ITTS device shall be fixed inside the VVPAT machine in such a way that the voters’ clear view through the transparent window of the VVPAT remains unobstructed and the printed paper slips displayed for seven seconds in VVPAT come within the field of view of its camera lens. Externally, it requires a set of headphones with volume controls in them.

Upon entering the booth, the voter puts on the headphones. When a vote is cast, a paper slip is printed in the VVPAT containing the serial number, the name of the candidate and the image and name of the symbol of the candidate and remains exposed through a transparent window for seven seconds. The ITTS device captures the image of the paper slip using its camera. The extraction of the text from the image is done by optical character recognition software and the process of converting text to speech is done by the text-to-speech engine. The audio output is then listened to through the headphones. It states the serial number, the name of the candidate and the name of the symbol of the candidate. The voter listening at the headphones can instantly verify that his/her vote is cast as intended. Thereafter, the temporary files created in the ITTS device during this process get eliminated automatically creating space for new files.

The proposed stand-alone system is not vulnerable to manipulation. The manufacturers of EVMs (Bharat Electronics Ltd. and Electronics Corporation of India Ltd.) are capable of making inexpensive and efficient image text to speech conversion (ITTS) devices using current technologies.

Voting is an act of expression which has immense importance in a democratic system. With an intent to have fullest transparency in the electoral system and to restore the confidence of voters with disability in seeing in the EVMs, it is necessary to provide them the facility to verify their voting. It is the voters themselves who must consider their voting experience to be a success. To have confidence in the outcome of an election, they must believe that they successfully used the voting system. Without this belief, the outcome of the election may be questioned.

Therefore, in order to empower the voters with disability in seeing to verify their cast votes, the Election Commission of India should incorporate a system of “image text to speech conversion” in the Electronic Voting Machines.

EVMs In Kashmir

Bengal Polls Highest In Fourth Phase

The polling percentage in the fourth phase of Lok Sabha elections was the highest in West Bengal – around 76.44 per cent till 5 pm, said the Election Commission of India (ECI) here on Monday evening.

Eight seats of the state went to the polls in the fourth phase. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the polling percentage for these seats was 83.38 per cent.

Jammu and Kashmir recorded the lowest turnout with just 10.5 per cent votes polled till 5 pm. Polling for Anantnag seat is scheduled to be held in three phases. On Monday, Kulgam district went to polls.

In 2014, the polling percentage for Kulgam alone was 36.34 per cent, according to Election Commission of India.

Talking to media persons, Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha along with other senior officials said that in Odisha, where six Lok Sabha seats went to polls in the fourth phase along with 42 Assembly constituencies, 68 per cent votes were polled till 6 pm.

In 2014, the polling percentage in Odisha stood at 73.75 per cent.

In Rajasthan, where 13 out of 25 seats went to polls on Monday, the voter turnout was recorded at 64.5 per cent till 5 pm. The polling percentage for the same seats in 2014 stood at 64.48 per cent.

The rest 12 seats of the states will go to polls in the fifth phase on May 6.

Voting was held for five seats of Bihar as well. In these seats, around 58.92 per cent voters exercised their franchise till 6 pm.

In 2014, the polling percentage for these five seats was recorded at 56.18 per cent.

Seventeen seats of Maharashtra went to polls in the fourth and final phase of polls for the state. The voter turnout was recorded at 58.23 per cent till 6 pm.

In 2014, the polling percentage for the same seats was recorded at 55.58 per cent.

In Uttar Pradesh, 13 Lok Sabha seats went to polls on Monday. The polling percentage stood at 57.58 per cent. In 2014, the final turnout for these seats was recorded at 58.39 per cent.

In Jharkhand, where three seats went to polls on Monday, around 63.39 per cent voters exercised their franchise. This was slightly lower as compared to 2014 when the polling percentage stood at 63.82 per cent.

In Madhya Pradesh, where polling was held for six seats, the voter turnout was recorded at 66.14 per cent.

The first three phases of elections were held on April 11, 18 and 23.

The polling percentage in the first phase was recorded at 69.50, 69.44 in the second phase and 68.40 in the third phase.

The EC stated that the polling in the first three phases was 0.675 per cent higher as compared to the last Lok Sabha election in 2014.

According to the Election Commission, polling was largely “incident-free” except in West Bengal. In Jharkhand, the last voter in one of the polling stations in Chatra damaged the ballot unit.

“In West Bengal, BJP candidate from Asansol Babul Supriyo went inside a booth with his security guard alleging that his polling agent was not allowed to sit,” an EC official said during the press conference.

“When the CRPF ASI in-charge protested the entry of security guards with the arms inside the booth, he pushed him physically and entered the booth along with his security guard,” he added.

“A case was also registered against Babul Supriyo and against unknown persons for breaking the glass of Babul Supriyo’s car,” he said.

The remaining three phases of Lok Sabha polls will be held on May 6, 12, and 19. The counting of votes will be done on May 23.

(ANI)

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Yogi Adityanath In Ahmedabad

EC Censures Yogi's 'Modi Ki Sena' Remarks

Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Election Commission of India has issued a censure to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath over his ‘Modi ki Sena’ remark.

Censure is to express disapproval of someone/something in a formal statement.

The EC has advised Adityanath to be more careful in the future as a “senior political leader.”

While addressing a public rally in Ghaziabad on April 1, Adityanath had referred to the Indian Army as “Modi ji ki sena” while drawing a comparison between the steps taken by the BJP-led central government against terrorism and the previous Congress government.

“Things which were impossible for SP-BSP, are now possible; it is possible since Modi is here. Congress used to feed biryani to terrorists but Modi ji ki sena (Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s army) gives them only golis and golas (bullets and bombs). This is the difference,” the Chief Minister had said.

(ANI)

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EC Notice To Rlys On Chowkidar Cup

Election Commission of India (ECI) has served notices to the Ministry of Railways and Ministry of Civil Aviation regarding two different complaints raised regarding the alleged violation of the model code of conduct.

In a notice to the Ministry of Railways in connection with a viral picture of tea being served in Shatabdi train in ‘Main bhi Chowkidar’ cups, the Commission has asked Ministry to file a reply by Saturday.

The ECI has also sent a notice to Ministry of Civil Aviation, seeking a reply on Madurai Airport matter where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s picture was seen on boarding passes. The Civil Aviation Ministry too has been asked to file a reply by Saturday.

Earlier on March 27, the Election Commission had questioned the Centre why Railway tickets and boarding passes carrying photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have not been withdrawn.

The Model Code of Conduct is a set of instructions and guidelines to be followed by political quarter and candidates contesting polls for the conduct free and fair elections. It came into force on March 10 after the announcement of election schedule by the EC.

Seven phase elections will begin on April 11 and commence on May 19. Counting of votes will be held on May 23.

(ANI)

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Lok Sabha Polls In 7 Phases From Apr 11

The Election Commission of India on Sunday announced the schedule for the 17th Lok Sabha election, which will be held in seven phases beginning April 11. The final phase of voting will take place on May 19. The counting of votes will be done on May 23.

Announcing the election schedule, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora said: “The gazette notification will be issued on March 18. The last date of nomination of first phase polling will be March 25.”

“The last date for withdrawal of candidature for the first phase is March 28. The first phase polling will take place on April 11. The date of counting will be May 23, 2019. As many as 91 constituencies in 20 states will go to polls in the first phase,” he said.

Arora, who talking to media persons here at Vigyan Bhawan, said: “The phase two polling will be on April 18, third phase on April 23, fourth phase on April 29, fifth phase on May 6, sixth phase on May 12, and the phase seven polling will take place on May 19.”

Arora said that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) will come into force from today itself in the entire country. “Any violation will be dealt in a stringent manner,” he said.

“The Election Commission of India has attempted every comprehensive preparation for the conduct of election for the 17th Lok Sabha, which is free, fair, inclusive, ethical, participatory and also festive,” added CEC Arora.

The CEC also stated that the examination schedule of all state boards and occasions like festivals, harvest season, etc were taken into consideration while fixing the poll dates.

“The panel held deliberations with several departments, including railways, to ensure smooth movement and facilitation during the conduct of polls,” said Arora.

He also informed that the final electoral roles have about 900 million voters. “This marks an increase of 84.3 million voters since 2014. There are 15 million voters in the age group of 18-19. The number of polling booth has also increased from 9 lakh to 10 lakh,” he said.

“VVPATs will be used along with EVMs at all polling stations. Adequate numbers of both have been made available for smooth conduct of election exercise. There will be mandatory VVPAT slip count at randomly selected polling station per assembly segment,” he said.

Arora also said that candidates are required to furnish details of their social media account.

“All advertisement on social media will also require pre-certification. All expenditure on campaigning advertisement in social media is to be included in the election expenditure account,” said Arora.

Election Commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra were also present during Sunday’s announcement press conference.

The tenure of the 16th Lok Sabha expires on June 3.

The Lok Sabha elections in India are the biggest democratic exercise in the world. Indian electorate will be voting to elect Members of Parliament (MP) for 543 Lok Sabha constituencies.

Since 2004, the consecutive government has completed its full five-year tenure and the General Elections have been taking place in months of April-May.

Lok Sabha polls 2014 were held in nine-phases with the election schedule being announced on March 5. The 2014 LS polls electoral exercise was spread over months of April and May with the first phase of polling taking place on April 7 and the last phase being on May 12. (ANI)

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